Ask Annie: From motherhood to pensions, what are my Dutch wife's rights?


Q: I am a British man married to a Dutch citizen, and we have decided to settle in Britain permanently and get jobs. My wife would like to know what her rights are to a UK state pension and to maternity benefits. We would also like to know whether her Dutch citizenship could go against us in being accepted for a mortgage. Will the lender need to see what she was earning while living abroad, or will it only take UK earnings into account?

DJ, London

A: Your wife will have her own pension entitlement in the UK, and will be able to claim the money when she reaches state pension age. This is currently 60 for a woman, but the age is being increased gradually from April 2010 so that by 2020 both men and women will have the same state pension age of 65.

As for the size of her pension, this depends on the number of years that she makes national insurance contributions (NICs) 39 years are needed for a full state pension, falling to 30 from 2010.

If you start a family together, your wife will qualify for home responsibility protection. In effect, HRP ensures that if she doesn't work while bringing up children, her NICs are made-up for her. You get HRP if you are claiming child benefit or if you are a carer for a disabled person.

If your wife builds up enough years of NICs, she will qualify for the full Category A pension, currently 84.25 a week. Failing this, she should qualify for a Category B based on your own contributions (50.50 a week while you are still alive and 84.25 if you died). Category B pensions are only available to married women, widows and widowers, and are based on their spouse's national insurance record. For more details, contact the Government's International Pensions Centre on 0191 218 7777.

If your wife works and has average weekly earnings of over 87 a week, she will be entitled to statutory maternity pay. SMP is payable for a maximum of 39 weeks, for the first six weeks at a rate of 90 per cent of average earnings, and for the rest at a flat rate of 112.75 per week. She may be entitled to up to 10 days' paid work, known as "keeping in touch days"', without losing entitlement to SMP.

As for a mortgage, David Hollingworth of broker London & Country says lenders will only be interested in your ability as a couple to service the loan, so your wife's employment history in the Netherlands won't be relevant. "Lenders will want to know that you have permanent jobs and can afford to make the repayments," he says. "Many will require you to have been in a job for three months before they lend to you, to make sure you have got past any probationary period and will be staying in employment."

That your wife is a Dutch citizen shouldn't make any difference to the application, because she has a right to live and work in the UK.

However, if both of you have been living outside the UK, this could adversely affect your credit score. Lenders like people to have lived at the same British address for at least three years. "In the worst case, you could be refused a loan altogether," says Mr Hollingworth. "But more likely the lender would just peg back the size of the mortgage and not advance as much as it would to someone with a longer residence history."

If you need help from our consumer champion, write to Annie Shaw at The Independent on Sunday, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or email sindie@independent.co.uk. We cannot return documents, give personal replies or guarantee to answer letters. We accept no legal responsibility for advice given

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