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What is a Tax Identification Number

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Last editedFeb 20222 min read

The tax authorities in many countries use tax identification numbers that enable them to track and monitor the tax accounts of the population. Although the UK has nothing that is formally identifiable as a tax identification number – or TIN UK, as it would be known – it does make use of two numbers that are allocated to members of the public and perform a similar role to that played by a tax ID number in the UK.   

UK alternatives to a tax identification number 

The UK has two TIN-like numbers that, although they do not feature on any official identification documents, are included in many forms of correspondence sent out by HM Revenue and Customs and other government bodies. They are:

  • The unique taxpayer reference (UTR) – this is a 10-digit set of numbers that is automatically issued to any individual or business that is required to fill in and submit a tax return. Although the UTR will be featured on a tax return and other pieces of correspondence from HMRC, it is not printed up or provided as a card or official UTR document in its own right.  

  • The national insurance number (NINO) – this number is made up of two letters followed by six numbers and then one of the letters A, B, C or D, and is unique to each holder. If a person resides regularly in the UK they will automatically have a NINO allocated to them or can be issued with one on request. A young adult about to turn 16 will be automatically issued with their own NINO, which will be used on a range of official documents for the rest of their life. 

When an individual has been allocated their NINO, they will be informed via an official letter sent to them by either the Department for Work and Pensions or HMRC. In both cases the letter will inform the recipient that the NINO is “not proof of identity”, and so it cannot be used to verify the identity of any individual. It can, however, be quoted as a form of tax identification number on some official documents sent to HMRC. One aspect of both the UTR and the NINO that should be noted is that once they have been allocated they are allocated on a permanent basis. Each number is unique to the individual in question and will never alter in either format or detail.  

Do all UK residents get a UTR or NINO?

Not all residents in the UK, or UK nationals, are allocated a UTR or NINO. In some cases, if a NINO has been forgotten and can’t be traced then the individual in question may be given documentation that details a PAYE temporary reference number, which will be generated by HMRC. This will take the form of two numbers, one letter and five numbers, such as 11M11111. 

Under which circumstances may a tax identification number not be issued?

The allocation of TINs does not automatically apply to all UK residents and nationals. UK-based individuals who will not be issued with a TIN include those who are not liable to pay tax or National Insurance in the UK, such as people under the age of 16 and those who don’t have the right to work in the UK. 

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