The suspension of services last year has caused a backlog
The Department for Work and Pensions is hoping to reduce what is currently a wait of up to three months to process applications for new National Insurance numbers.
The department is taking on new staff to help ease the pent-up demand and has also launched a digital service it hopes will streamline and expedite the procedure for most applicants.
During the early days of the coronavirus crisis in March last year, all face-to-face to interviews for those applying for a National Insurance number (NINo) were suspended, as DWP staff were reallocated in light of the huge hike in applications for Universal Credit and other benefits.
Until now, in-person checks of an applicant’s identity and right to work in the UK have been a necessary step on the road to obtaining a NINo.
But, following a pilot last year, on 28 April the DWP launched a digital tool allowing all “employment-inspired” applications – encompassing those that are made in respect of an overseas national starting a job in the UK, or planning to do so – to be made online.
According to financial inclusion minister Guy Opperman: “For applicants who have been through an identity-verification process with another government department, they are no longer required to attend a face-to-face identity appointment.”
This will mean “the majority” of those applying will be able to complete the process without needing to attend an in-person meeting with officials, the minister indicated.
However, the suspension of face-to-face interviews – which only restarted two months ago – has caused a lengthy backlog of existing applications that are yet to be processed. Applicants can, at present, expect a wait of several months for their number to be issued.
“Demand for the NINo service is extremely high,” Opperman said. “The average time taken to process applications, including British Passport holders, is around 10-12 weeks. The department is currently recruiting and training additional staff to reduce these waiting times.”
The minister’s comments were made in response to recent written parliamentary questions from Labour MPs Rachel Hopkins and Lyn Brown.
Everyone who earns more £9,500 a year in the UK is required to pay National Insurance contributions. HM Revenue and Customs issues NI numbers to all UK citizens around their 16th birthday. Foreign nationals starting work in the UK – as well as those applying to access benefits or, in many cases, open a bank account in this country – need to apply through the DWP to be issued with a number.