All You Need to Know About the PAYE Reference Number

You’re more than a number—but it still helps to know

If you’re employed in the UK, you’ll sometimes need to know your PAYE reference number when you contact HMRC. Usually, this happens when you want to claim tax back or apply for tax credits, so it pays to have your reference number somewhere in your records. 

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find your PAYE reference number, and—depending on how long you’ve been in your job and the software your employer uses to process payroll—you might have to do a bit of searching to find it. What’s more, your PAYE reference doesn’t technically identify you as much as your employer. 

So what exactly is this short code? And why is it important for calculating how much tax you have to pay? We’ve got the answers right here. 

What is a PAYE reference number? 

A PAYE reference number is sometimes called an ERN, or employer reference number. If you’re wondering what the difference is between the ERN and the PAYE, there isn’t one. The terms mean the same thing. Confusingly, though, they’re often used interchangeably—even by HMRC. 

Whichever term you prefer, it’s a number used by your employer and HMRC in the forms they use to calculate how much tax and National Insurance need to be deducted from your salary. 

By the way, the PAYE part of the PAYE reference number stands for Pay As You Earn, which is the system where your tax and National Insurance are taken from your salary each month before it hits your bank account. This means that you won’t have a PAYE reference number if you have to file your own tax return at the end of the year (for example, if you’re self-employed). You may also be without an ERN if you:

  • Work for an agency
  • Volunteer 
  • Earn less than the lower earnings limit for paying National Insurance. 

What does a PAYE number look like?

Your PAYE or employer reference number is a combination of letters and numbers separated by a forward slash. 

  • The first part (which usually has three digits) refers to the tax office that processes your tax and National Insurance. 
  • The second part (which is a combination of letters and numbers), identifies your employer. Before 2001, there was only one letter after the slash. Now, there are two. 

A standard PAYE reference would look something like 987/AB65432. 

It’s important to note that ‘your’ PAYE reference number is actually related to your employer and not to you personally. If you work in an office that employs 100 people, they’ll all have the same PAYE reference number. The number that’s unique to you is your UTR, or Unique Taxpayer Reference, which is a 10-digit number you may also use in your dealings with HMRC, especially if you file a self-assessment for your taxes. 

This also means that if you work more than one job, you’ll have more than one PAYE reference number. 

And if you want to know what your PAYE reference is for, it’s all a matter of helping HMRC to keep track of who is employed where. 

When do you need to know your PAYE reference number? 

Sometimes, if your situation changes in the course of a tax year (for example, you change jobs and end up making less money) or if you cover a lot of work expenses from your own pocket, you might get to claim back some of the tax you paid. This is the most common situation where you’ll need to know your PAYE reference number because, unfortunately, it doesn’t happen automatically. You’ll have to claim the tax back by contacting HMRC directly. 

A tax refund is sometimes called a rebate. You’ll find out if you’ve paid too much tax when HMRC sends you a P800 tax calculation letter, which usually arrives before the November following the tax year concerned. Then, you can apply for your rebate through your personal tax account, which you can set up here.

You’ll also need to know your PAYE reference number if:

  • You want to claim tax relief on expenses (money you spent for your job, like buying office equipment). 
  • You’re paying back student loans 
  • You’re claiming tax credits

And HMRC may ask for it if you contact them for other issues too. 

It’s really important to have all the information to hand when you’re completing this paperwork because HMRC will reject forms with missing details. If this happens, you’ll have to try again to claim the money you’re owed once you’ve gathered all the information you need. 

How do I find my PAYE reference number? 

Sometimes, your employer might put your PAYE reference number on your payslips, but this largely depends on the payroll software they use and whether the number is automatically added to the documents it generates. Your employer doesn’t need to include your PAYE reference on the payslips they send you—there’s no legal requirement to include this information.

The place you’re sure to find an employer’s PAYE reference or ERN is on a P60 or a P45

You get a P60 at the end of the tax year (which runs from April 6th until April 5th). It breaks down the tax and National Insurance you paid on your salary that year. 

Or, if you left your job during the tax year, you get a P45, which shows how much tax you paid between April 6th and the day your contract ended. 

But it’s not unusual for people to be without an up-to-date P45 or P60, especially if they’re in their first job, they’re coming back to work after a career break, or they’re in their first year with a new company. 

How to find an employer PAYE reference without a P60

If you need to know your PAYE reference number, but don’t have a P45, P60, or a payslip to check, the best thing to do is ask your employer directly. They’ll be able to tell you since they’ll use the same number in all their dealings with HMRC. 

What’s more, you can ask your employer for your PAYE reference number even if you don’t work for them anymore. This is because they’re legally obliged to hold onto their records about the tax you paid while you worked for them for six years after you leave your job. 

You might also find the Government Gateway service helpful. 

The Government Gateway is a place to find all the information about your dealings with HMRC online. To set up your profile for the first time, you’ll need your contact details, personal information (like your date of birth) and your National Insurance (NI) number. You’ll also have to upload documents like your passport or driving licence to prove your identity, and you’ll need some details from a payslip or a self-assessment tax return so that you can answer a security question. 

Once you’re in, you can go to your personal tax account and look under ‘PAYE Income Tax History’ to find your employer PAYE reference number. 

If none of these steps works, you might also be able to contact HMRC directly, by post, phone, or e-mail, to ask for the number you need. 

What should employers know about the PAYE reference number? 

Employers need to have a PAYE reference number to submit their end-of-year PAYE returns.

If you’re an employer, you’ll get your employer PAYE reference number when you first register with HMRC. It’s in the welcome pack and on the letters you get from your tax office at this time. 

Then, when you issue P60s or P45s to your employees, the reference number will also be added to these forms. 

Remember that the number relates to you as an employer and not to your individual employees, so, unless there have been drastic changes to your business (for example, you’ve re-registered with HMRC under a different name), the PAYE reference number will stay the same year after year. 

And, to make life easier for your employees when they have to contact HMRC about their personal tax bill, consider adding the PAYE reference number to their payslips if your payroll software allows it. 

The PAYE Reference Number: a summary

The employer reference number is not unique to you as an employee, but it’s often still important to have it to hand when you contact HMRC about how your tax is calculated. 

Whether you need to start paying back student loans, claiming tax credits, or if you’ve just ended up paying too much tax, you might not be able to complete the forms you need without this short combination of letters and numbers. 

And remember, if you’re asking yourself, “what’s an ERN?” it’s exactly the same as a PAYE reference. 

Also read:
What is your ERN? Everything You Need to Know 
What is a P60 in the UK? (Full Guide) 
How to Register as Self-Employed in the UK