Numbers are important if you’re a freelancer. I’m not talking about the number of clients you have or the amount you earn in a month (although they’re pretty darn important). I’m talking about the numbers that litter all the paperwork you receive (and send). So, let’s take a look at what three of the most important numbers mean.

NI (National Insurance) Number

Who uses it?

You, any employers you had/still have, HMRC, and any Government body concerned with earnings, pensions and benefits and any company you have a pension with.

What’s it for?

Your national insurance number is unique to you (and if you’ve lived in the UK since you were a child, you should have received it before your 16th birthday). Before 2010, you would have received a card with your NI number printed on it, but since then, it’s just printed on a letter informing you of the number.

Your NI number is used to track the National Insurance contributions you make throughout your life and it should be on:

  • any payslip you’re received from an employer
  • your P60
  • any letters about your tax or pension
  • any letters about benefits
  • the National Insurance section of your online personal tax account

Fascinating fact: The last two digits determine the day of the week on which various social security benefits are payable and when unemployed claimants need to attend their Jobcentre to sign on (renew their claims): 00 to 19 for Monday, 20 to 39 for Tuesday, 40 to 59 for Wednesday, 60 to 79 for Thursday and 80 to 99 for Friday.

What do I do if I’ve lost it – or never been given one?

If you’ve lost your NI number, you can either:

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) won’t tell you your National Insurance number over the phone. They’ll post it to you and it will arrive within 10 working days.

If you didn’t get an NI number:


 UTR Number – Unique Tax Reference number

Who uses it?


What’s it for?

A UTR will be issued to you when you register for tax self-assessment or set up a limited company. Every UK taxpayer has a unique UTR – a 10-digit number, sometimes with a letter ‘K’ on the end. It will appear on tax returns and any communications from HMRC and it’s required for anything that involves your tax.

What do I do if I’ve lost it?

Call the Self-Assessment helpline if you need your UTR and can’t find it on any of your documents from HMRC.


VAT number – Value Added Tax identification number

Who uses it?

Other businesses or individuals and HMRC.

What’s it for?

You must register for VAT with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if your VAT taxable turnover is more than £85,000. You can register voluntarily if your turnover is less than £85,000, unless everything you sell or provide is exempt. Whether this is beneficial for you will depend on the industry you work in, how you work and with whom. An accountant can advise you on whether registering for VAT will be of financial benefit.

When you register, HMRC will send you a VAT registration certificate with your VAT number on. It will also tell you when to submit your first VAT Return and payment and your registration date. Once you’ve received your VAT number, you can sign up for a VAT online account.

What do I do if I’ve lost it?

Contact HMRC’s VAT enquiry line.


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