What is the state pension triple lock?

The triple lock gets a lot of mentions in the political arena, and millions of pensioners rely on it to boost their income each year. But how does it work exactly, and could it be scrapped in future?

The state pension will see a bumper rise next April, with the triple lock pushing it above £11,000 for the first time.

We explain what the triple lock is, how it impacts your pension income and whether it will stay. 

 What is the triple lock? 

It is a fairly simple concept: the triple lock dictates that the state pension rises each year in line with inflation, average earnings or by 2.5% - whichever is higher. 

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In other words, if earnings and inflation are below 2.5%, pensioners will get a 2.5% increase in their pension; if either measure is higher, they’ll get more.

The earnings figure used is the annual rate of growth in average weekly earnings in July, a number released by the Office for National Statistics in September.

That data showed total pay including bonuses was up 8.5% from May to July 2023. This was higher than September's inflation reading of 6.7%.

The government confirmed in its Autumn Statement that it would honour the triple lock pledge, therefore uprating the state pension by 8.5% in April 2024.

The triple lock applies to both the basic state pension (pre-April 2016) and the new state pension (post-April 2016) to ensure they keep pace with living costs.

 How much state pension will I get with the triple lock? 

The state pension is a regular payment from the government that most people can claim when they reach state pension age. Pensioners will receive an 8.5% increase in April 2024, one of the biggest ever rises.

The largest increase was seen in April 2023, when the state pension went up by 10.1% - in line with the previous September's measure of inflation.

The full new state pension currently stands at £203.85 a week for those who reached state pension age after April 2016. 

Those who reached the state pension age before that date are on the old basic state pension, which pays £156.20 each week.

Next April, the state pension will rise to £221.20 a week for the full, new state pension and £169.50 a week for the full, old basic state pension.

This adds up to £11,502 per year, up from the current £10,600, for those receiving the full, new state pension. 

But the actual amount you get may depend on your National Insurance record; most people need a minimum of 10 years of contributions to receive anything and 35 years’ contributions to receive the maximum new state pension.

Those who retired before April 2016 are under the old basic state pension rules, which require 30 years’ National Insurance contributions to get the full amount.

For fewer than 30 years, pensioners get 1/30 of the full amount for each year of contributions made.

 Will the triple lock be scrapped? 

In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative government pledged to keep the triple lock in place for the duration of this parliament. 

However, some experts say the triple lock is ultimately too expensive and should be scrapped. Others emphasise the intergenerational unfairness of the triple lock, citing the difficulties younger workers face with a crushing mix of tax hikes, energy bill rises and soaring interest rates.

For now, the government has ended speculation over whether it would honour the triple lock or not, announcing that it will uprate pensions by 8.5% in April.

Charities such as Age UK welcomed the move. Caroline Abrahams, influencing director at Age UK, said: "We're pleased and relieved the government kept its promise to older people to honour the triple lock. For the 4.2 million older people who recently cut back on food and groceries to make ends meet, having a state pension that delivers the basics in life is essential."

But the debate around the triple lock is likely to linger. James Carter, head of platform product policy at investment giant Fidelity International, commented: “Discussions about the future of the triple lock as a formula for determining the annual increase to the state pension will likely persist. Economic volatility and issues of cross-generational fairness will continue to force difficult political and fiscal debate as we race towards a General Election in 2024."

 How much is the triple lock costing taxpayers? 

The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated the cost of the state pension will rise from £124bn this year to £134bn next year.

“A state pension ‘pay rise’ for pensioners next year will make the triple lock promise more costly than ever and call into question whether this mechanism of guaranteeing increases can continue,” says Becky O’Connor, director of public affairs at the pension provider PensionBee

Maintaining the triple lock on state pensions could add as much as £45bn a year to the welfare bill by 2050, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has also highlighted the risks to the public finances from the triple lock. 

More than 12 million people currently receive the state pension.

Ruth Emery

Ruth is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times. 

A multi-award winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service. 

Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, a magistrate and an NHS volunteer.

With contributions from