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Child Maintenance and Benefits for Single Parents

Lucy Miller 27th Jul 2020 4 Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re a single parent, it’s hugely important that you get all the benefits that you’re entitled to. Universal Credit has attempted to simplify the benefits system in recent years, but it can still be more than a bit confusing. Here, we’ll go through the benefits for single parents that are available, and hopefully demystify the process. 

What is Child Maintenance?

What is child maintenance?

If you’ve split up with the parent of your children and you’re the primary carer, it’s likely that they will be required to pay child benefit in order to help you out with the costs involved. This amount is known as Child Maintenance. You can work out this amount yourself – it doesn’t have to be set by a court or solicitor. 

If your former partner is in prison, is a full-time student with no income or is sharing the care equally with you, they will not have to pay Child Maintenance. 

If this is not the case, though, you can work out how much Child Maintenance they should pay on Gov.uk. You’ll need details of your former partner’s income, including their State Pension, any benefits they receive themselves, and (if applicable) the number of nights your child stays with them in order to make an accurate calculation. Make sure you have all this information to hand before you start making the calculations. 

Other benefits for single parents 

Of course, Child Maintenance isn’t the only benefit that is available to single parents. Here are some of the others that you might be entitled to:

  • Child Benefit – a set amount per child (£20.05 for the first child, and £13.95 for every child thereafter), up to the age of 16 (or 20 in certain cases, for example if they’re on an approved education course). Child Benefit is not means-tested, meaning everyone receives it, and isn’t taxed.  
  • Universal Credit – the simplified benefits system that came in a couple of years ago, Universal Credit includes extra payments if you have children and is available for those who aren’t working or are on a low income.
  • Child Tax Credit – certain parents may still be entitled to this, although for many it will now be incorporated into Universal Credit (more on the details of Child Tax Credit and who might be eligible for it can be found below) 

You can work out exactly which benefits you’re entitled to here. 

Child Tax Credit explained

Child tax credit explained

What is Child Tax Credit? Some may be confused over Child Tax Credit, but actually it’s relatively simple because, for most people, it has been replaced with Universal Credit. 

You may still be entitled to Child Tax Credit, outside of your Universal Credit payment, if: 


  • You have a child who is 16 or 17 (you can apply up to 31st August after their 16th birthday) 
  • You have a child under the age of 20, who is in approved education or training (if this is the case you can apply up to their 20th birthday) 

If you are entitled, you will receive a different amount depending on: 

  • The number of children you have (the current rate is £20.70 per week for the first child, and £13.70 for each child after that) 
  • Whether you are already claiming Child Tax Credit, or whether you’re making a new claim 

Remember that receiving Child Tax Credits won’t affect your Child Benefit, as the latter is not means-tested. 

What happens if we split up / get divorced? 

If you’re in the process of getting divorced or splitting up with your partner, and you have children together, you will need to split your assets and come to an agreement over who will get what. You may need financial or legal advice whilst doing this, especially if your separation is an acrimonious one. If you need help, make sure you get in touch with Citizens Advice or read the information on divorce that they have on their website. 

Once your assets are split and your childcare arrangements for the future decided, you’ll be in a position to work out your own benefits eligibility. Will you have to reduce your working hours to care for children as the primary carer, for example? If this is the case, you may now be classed as being on a low income and may be entitled to Universal Credit. 

If one parent is taking over the primary care of the child or children, the other parent will in most cases be liable to pay Child Maintenance. We discussed Child Maintenance earlier in this article. Make sure you look into what your ex partner should be paying. Make sure they’re aware of it and that a payment schedule (whether weekly or monthly) is agreed upon. 

Of course, there may be issues in ensuring that they make their payments on time, if at all. If this looks like it’s going to be the case, or if you can’t agree on a schedule in the first instance, you can seek support from the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). There’s more on this via Gingerbread, the single parents’ support charity. 

my income has changed due to coronavirus – help! 

If your income has changed due to coronavirus, you could be eligible for support when you previously weren’t. As mentioned already, do a frank and fair assessment or whether your circumstances are now reduced. This might be the case if you’ve lost your job or taken reduced hours. Check whether you now qualify for Universal Credit. 

If your ex partner’s circumstances have changed there could also be changes to the amount of Child Maintenance that they are required to pay. Of course, this only applies if you are the primary carer. You may need to seek the help of the Child Support Agency. They will be able to recalculate the amount that your ex can now fairly pay. 

Have you got any advice on benefits for single parents? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know how you’ve navigated the system over on the forums.

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3 years ago

Very informative for single parents.

Anneka Avery
Anneka Avery
3 years ago

My Ex partner owes over £8,000 in child maintenance but I can’t seem to get anywhere with getting the money from him, the CMS aren’t doing a lot. Can you do an article to help us with this? I know the Gingerbread organisation for single parents has a campaign but I wondered what advice you could give?

3 years ago
Reply to  Anneka Avery

Hi Anneka – thanks so much for your question. We’ve reached out to one of our family law contacts, and they’ll be writing an article about the issue for us very soon. I’ll let you know when it’s live!

3 years ago

Thank you for the information.

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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