This article is all about how to understand your payslip

Understanding the information on your payslip is crucial for financial literacy and ensuring you comprehend fully how your compensation works in your workplace. Payslips are essential documents that employees receive regularly, providing a detailed breakdown of their salary earnings and deductions. 

When I got my first job I had no idea what kind of information the payslip contained: I just glanced over the “net salary” figure because that was the only thing that I was interested in. I just wanted to know how much I was getting in the bank! Who cares about anything else, right?! Wrong.

Why understanding your payslip is important

A payslip contains a lot more information than just your net salary, and you should know what all of it is about. By learning what all the elements of a payslip mean, you can gain a deeper understanding of your pay, taxation, pension contributions, and holidays.

For example, you may be able to realise that you’re being overtaxed by noticing that the tax code your employer is using is the wrong one (this actually happened to me!).

How to read a payslip

In the United Kingdom, payslips follow a standardised format mandated by law. Let’s take a look at all the individual sections of a standard UK payslip.

Personal Information

At the top of your payslip, you’ll find personal details such as your name, address, and national insurance number. Ensure this information is accurate, as any discrepancies could affect your tax and national insurance contributions.

You should let your employer know as soon as possible if any of your personal details change, such as your address or name.

Payment Period

Clearly stated on the payslip is the payment period it covers. This could be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, depending on how often you are paid. Understanding your payment frequency is essential for budgeting and financial planning.


The most prominent section of your payslip is likely to be the earnings breakdown. Here, you’ll find details about your gross pay, which is your salary before any deductions. 

This section will include your basic salary and any overtime pay, bonuses, and other additional earnings you may have accrued in the period the payslip covers.

For example, if your contracted yearly salary is £30,000, your monthly gross earnings should be stated as being £2,500.


Deductions are crucial to understand, as they directly impact your take-home pay. These are items that are withheld from you from your employer, reducing your net pay. 

Common deductions include:

  • Income Tax: the amount you owe to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) based on your income. This may also be called PAYE, which is an acronym of Pay As You Earn. This means that the income tax you owe is communicated and paid to the government by your employer every time a payroll run is submitted. Check out the income tax rates on HMRC’s website.
  • National Insurance Contributions (NICs): NICs are payments you make so that you may be eligible to claim some benefits in the future, such as state pension or statutory maternity allowance. If you are employed, you will have to pay Class 1 contributions if you are over 16 years of age, and are earning above a certain threshold: read more about NICs to learn how they are calculated.
  • Pension Contributions: all employers have to offer a pension scheme to all eligible employees. The minimum contributions are 4% from the employee, and 3% from the employers (these might change int he years to come). You can contribute more than the minimum if you want to: you just need to let your employer know. If you are enrolled in a workplace pension scheme, your contributions will be deducted from your gross salary.
  • Student Loan Repayments: if applicable, your payslip will show any repayments towards your student loan. You will know which type of student load you are on if you have taken one: you will have received correspondence from the Student Loan Services detailing what type of loan you’re on, and how to communicate to your employer about it.

Net Pay

Net pay is the amount you take home after all deductions. This is the figure you should focus on for budgeting and financial planning, as that’s what you’ll receive in your bank account on payday.

understanding your payslip

Tax Codes

Your payslip will also include your tax code, a combination of letters and numbers used by HMRC to determine your tax obligations. Understanding your tax code is important to ensure you are being taxed correctly.

The tax code is often linked to the individual’s Personal Allowance, which is the amount of income they can earn tax-free within a tax year.

For example, if the standard Personal Allowance is £12,570 (as of the 2022/2023 tax year), an individual with this allowance might have a tax code of 1257L.

Letters in Tax Codes

The letters in a tax code provide additional information and instructions to employers. Common letters include:

L: Basic tax code for individuals under 65 years old.

M: Marriage Allowance.

N: Marriage Allowance transferred from a partner.

S: Scottish taxpayer.

C: Indicates that the individual has a certain level of blind person’s allowance.

T: Indicates other items in the tax code need to be reviewed annually.

K: Used when deductions or taxable benefits reduce the Personal Allowance.

Emergency Tax Codes

If HMRC doesn’t have enough information to assign the correct tax code, an emergency tax code might be used temporarily. Emergency tax codes often start with the letter ‘E’, but you may also see them represented with ‘BR’ which stands for Basic Rate.

Tax Code Changes

Tax codes can change for various reasons, such as changes in employment, adjustments to Personal Allowance, or corrections from HMRC.

Employers receive communications about employees’ tax code changes from HMRC directly.

Holiday and Sick Pay

Some payslips may include details about your accrued holiday pay or sick pay. Understanding these elements is essential for planning time off and managing your overall compensation package.

Conclusion about understanding your payslip

In conclusion, decoding your payslip is a crucial skill for every employee. The information it provides not only helps you understand your earnings but also ensures that you are being taxed and contributing to benefits correctly. Regularly reviewing your payslip can also help you identify any discrepancies or errors that may need correction. By familiarising yourself with the different sections of your payslip, you empower yourself with the knowledge needed to make informed financial decisions.

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This post was all about understanding your payslip in the UK

About the author : Susie Italiano

understand your payslip
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