It’s hard to know how any parent with young children is managing their budgets. From their carefree lives pre-children, suddenly they have to live with less money coming in, while at the same time coping with a whole new level of expenses. The benefits environment hasn’t been kind in recent years – and parents haven’t escaped the cuts – but there is still some help available, and some benefits for mums and dads, if you know where to look.
There is some financial support that mums and dads can get from the government to help towards the cost of having a family, supporting children while you go back into education and putting children through their own education. The government changes who’s entitled to benefits each year, which can get confusing, but we can let you know where we stand right now.
Governmental Support for Parents
Child tax credit –tax credits are payments from the government, which vary according to your circumstances. Payments are made up of three parts, and if you earn less than £16,105 you will be entitled to the maximum amount of each. There’s the family element of £545, then there’s the child element – paid at £2,780 each. Finally, there’s the disabled child element, which depends on the severity of the disability.
Once you earn over the threshold, the payments will begin to taper, but if you have three children you may be entitled to something if the household earns as much as £40,000 (or £65,000 if you have childcare costs).
Sure Start Maternity Grant – this a £500 tax-free grant to help parents on low incomes pay for things after giving birth for the first time. It does not have to be paid back, but you must be receiving certain other benefits in order to claim this. You can only receive this grant if there are no other children under 16 years of age in your family (unless you’re having a multiple birth). Check the Direct Gov website for more information and to download a form.
Healthy Start – The Healthy Start scheme supports pregnant women, new mums, families with young children who are on benefits, and pregnant under 18-year-olds. Healthy Start provide families with vouchers which can be used to buy frozen and fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as milk and infant formula milk. It also provides coupons which can be exchanged for vitamins and supplements.
If you’re pregnant you will receive one voucher (£3.10) each week. For each baby aged under one year, you will receive two vouchers a week (£6.20), children aged between one and four receive one voucher a week (£3.10). If you apply as soon as you are 10 weeks pregnant, you could get up to £93 in vouchers during your pregnancy.
See if you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme, just head to the website or give them a call on 0845 607 6823 for more information and an application leaflet.
Child Benefit – this is a tax-free payment from the government that you can claim to help you pay for the upkeep of your child/children. It is usually paid every four weeks, but can be paid weekly. You can claim if you have a child under 16 or a child over 16 in approved education or training. For your eldest or only child you will get £20.70 a week, then £13.70 for every other child.
If you, or your partner have an individual income of more than £50,000 and one of you is entitled to get Child Benefits you may be liable to the High Income Child Benefit charge. This is set at 1% of the Child Benefit for every £100 that your individual income is over £50,000 – so by the time you earn £60,000, the whole of the benefit is wiped out.
If you earn between £50,000 and £60,000 you can carry on getting the benefit and pay any tax charge at the end of each tax year. If you earn more than £60,000, you can opt out of getting the benefit altogether.
Jobseeker’s allowance – if you are currently unemployed or work less than 16 hours a week, but are looking for a full time or part time job then you may be eligible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance to help with the costs of living. How much you can claim depends on your circumstances. Universal Credit is gradually being rolled out to replace Jobseekers’ Allowance, and in some places you may be able to claim Universal Credit instead. Check the government website to see whether your area is part of the roll out yet. See if you can claim here.
Employment and Support Allowance – if you have a disability or health condition that prevents you from working, you may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance which replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support in 2008. You will have to fill out a questionnaire about your illness or disability and how it affects your everyday life. You may also have to take part in a medical examination. You may be able to work while still claiming ESA but there are certain rules about this.
Income support – this is for people who don’t claim Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance and have a low income. To be eligible to claim you must work less than 16 hours a week and have less than £16,000 in savings (savings of £6,000 or more will reduce what you can get). There are some exceptions but to claim you will not be in full time study. You also need to fall into one of the categories of claimants who do not have to look for work.
If you live with a partner and they are in similar circumstances, only one of you will be able to claim Income Support. If your partner works more than 24 hours a week, neither of you will be able to claim. You will need to contact your local JobCentre Plus to find out more.
If you are a lone parent, you can claim Income Support until your youngest child reaches the age of five. Before your Income Support payments are due to stop, you will have to attend an interview at JobCentre Plus.
Working tax credit – this is based on your circumstances – including the hours you work and get paid for, your income, any disabilities you have, and whether you pay for childcare. Once you earn over the minimum threshold of £6,420, your payments will taper. Check out the HMRC calulator to see whether you’re eligible for tax credits.
Childcare and School Support
Pre-school Childcare costs – all 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free early education for 38 weeks of the year. Some two year olds are also entitled to free care if you are on certain benefits. This can take place in nurseries, playgroups, pre-schools or at a childminder. To find out when your child will become eligible for their free place click here.
Free school lunches for children – all infant school children (Reception, Year 1 and Year 2) are entitled to free school meals.
Children may also be entitled to free meals throughout their school career if their parents are entitled to certain benefits.
Your Local Authority is responsible for providing free school lunches. You can apply here
Help with school uniforms – families on low income or benefits may be entitled to clothing grants or vouchers from their Local Authority to help with the costs of school uniforms. To apply, enter your postcode to find your local authority here.
Free school transport – if you are a working parent, it can be difficult to get your children to school. The good news is, your child is automatically entitled to free school transport from your Local Authority, if;
- they are between 5 and 16 years old
- they attend the nearest suitable school but it is further than the statutory walking distance – that is, 2 miles for pupils under 8 and 3 miles for those aged 8 and over.
They are also automatically entitled to free transport – no matter how far they live from the school – if they’re unable to walk for the following reasons:
- They have SEN (special educational needs)
- They have a disability, or mobility problems
- There is no safe walking route
Find out more and apply for home to school travel support by entering your postcode.
Support for Parents in Education
Care to Learn – if you are under 20, have one or more children and are still in education or planning to go back into education, the Care to Learn scheme can pay up to £160 per child per week (£175 in London) for childcare and associated travel costs. For more information, visit Gov.uk.
If you don’t qualify for any of the above schemes, you may still be able to get help through your sixth form or college.
Support for Working Parents
Parental Leave – working parents are entitled to take up to 50 weeks leave for each child in their first year – 37 weeks of which are paid. They can be shared between the parents however suits them best, and both parents can even take time off at the same time. Mums can still take maternity leave for the first 52 weeks instead, or can take the first two weeks and then exchange the rest for parental leave.
There are certain criteria you have to meet relating to how long you have been with your employers, and how much work you did in the 66 weeks before the due date. If you do qualify, it is paid at £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.
Flexible Working – all employees have the right to request flexible working. You must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks, before the request, and it is at their discretion. Direct Gov has more information on flexible working and forms for you to download.
Free swims for pregnant women – if you live in Bristol, you can benefit from free swims at six different leisure centres in the area. You’ll need to fill out an application form and take it to your nearest Everyone Active centre with proof of residency and your National Health Service Card to prove your eligibility.
If you live in London take a look at London Mums, the free peer support group for mums in London. There are pages and pages of events and activities, with loads of them running for free. It also covers Kent and Essex, so take a look to see what you can find. Register now to get your free London mums goody bag.
If you are pregnant or have had a baby within in the past 12 months, you are entitled to free prescriptions and free dental care. You must complete an FW8 application form to get a Maternity Exemption Certificate – you can get one from your GP, midwife or health visitor. The certificate will be valid for 12 months.
It really is worth taking out life insurance – preparing for the worst case scenario isn’t morbid, it’s practical. Although it might be easier in the short term to ignore it, once you’ve got life insurance it’ll be one less thing on your mind.
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