April 22 2004. Many have received 'deficiency notices' from the Inland Revenue and these will continue to be sent out up until this autumn.

A deficiency notice alerts the recipient to the fact that their contribution record is deficient and that future state benefit claims may be affected.

There are many reasons why the deficiency notice may be wrong or why the deficiency in question may not matter. Help can be obtained from the Inland Revenue leaflet that is issued with each deficiency notice.

However, once the decision has been made to pay, cash flow needs to be considered. Subject to the requirement that the contributions need to be paid before retirement age is reached, then all persons affected by the current exercise have until at least 5 April 2008 to pay and the weekly rate will not be increased over the intervening years - nor will interest be added. For those whose deficiency notices are issued on or after 6 April 2004, the time limit is 5 April 2009.

If only one or two weeks contributions are to be paid to make a year a qualifying year then there is little to be gained by delaying payment. Otherwise, and provided you can be sure that you won't forget, leave it until early 2008 (or 2009, as the case may be) before paying. Don't forget - there is no second chance on this one.