Find out which benefits you can claim if you are divorcing or separating
Most single parents find that they are having to live on less money raising their children on their own. Moreover, research suggest that single parents in the UK are twice as likely to live in poverty as those in two-parent families, and that it takes an average of 5 years to recover financially from a divorce.
Yet when you are a newly single parent and coping with the loss of a partner, whether it’s through bereavement, separation, or divorce, it can be incredibly hard to focus on the practical things in life, such as your finances. To help you get started, we have prepared an overview of the various types of financial assistance available to lone parents in the UK, so that you get an idea what support you can expect:
If you have recently separated or divorced and it has been decided – be it between you and your partner or by a court – that your child primarily lives with you after separation, i.e. their main residence is with you, then as the primary parent or carer of your child, the other parent will pay child support, also referred to as “child maintenance”. This money is intended to help the main carer with the child’s living costs.
Your child is entitled to child maintenance payments until they reach 16 years of age, or until they reach 20 years of age if they are enrolled in approved education or training. Approved education must be more than an average of twelve hours a week, and includes:
- A level (or equivalent);
- T levels;
- Scottish Highers;
- NVQs and other vocational qualifications up to Level 3;
- home schooling, if it started before the child turned 16 or if the child has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND);
- traineeships in England.
Advanced courses, such as a university degree or a BTEC, and courses paid for by an employer do not count as approved. This means your entitlement to child maintenance would end at that point of your child’s education. Approved training is unpaid and includes:
- Foundation Apprenticeships or Traineeships in Wales
- Employability Fund programmes in Scotland
- PEACE IV Children and Young People 2.1, or Training for Success in Northern Ireland
How to arrange child maintenance payments
Child maintenance is something you and the other parent can come to an agreement about privately, or it can be court-ordered as part of a divorce or dissolving a civil partnership. A third option is to apply to Child Maintenance Services (CMS) if you:
- disagree about the amount of child maintenance;
- are not in touch with the other parent;
- do not want to be in touch with the other parent, as in cases of abuse or domestic violence;
- do not know where the other parent is.
In most cases, child maintenance can be arranged outside of court. However, if the other parent lives outside the UK or makes more than £3,000 a week and you want more than the CMS calculation, you will need to apply to the court.
Bear in mind that if the other parent is a full-time student with no income or is in prison, they will not have to pay child maintenance.
Universal Credit is a new benefit, and you may be eligible if you are out of work, unable to work or are working and on a low income. It has replaced 6 other benefits (Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Working Tax Credit) with a single monthly payment. The amount of Child Maintenance you receive does not affect the amount of Universal Credit you receive, and vice versa.
For more information and to see if you are eligible, go to Apply for Universal Credit.
Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
If you are unemployed and available for work, you may be able to claim the new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance providing you have paid enough National Insurance Contributions, i.e. worked for two full tax years before submitting your claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can claim along with Universal Credit if you are a solo parent bringing up children and need extra financial help with your living costs.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
If you are unable to work due to poor health or disability, you may be eligible for the new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), again providing you have paid enough NI contributions. This allowance is available to those single parents who require additional financial support and can be claimed alongside Universal Credit.
If you don’t qualify for the above, you may be eligible for the limited capability for work- and work-related activity element of Universal Credit.
Council tax reduction
If you are the only adult living in the property for which you pay council tax, you will qualify for the single person’s discount if you live in England and Wales. The council tax reduction equates to a 25% discount off your bill. Note that Child Maintenance may reduce the amount of Council Tax Reduction you receive. This depends on where you live, so check with your local council.
Child Benefit can only be paid to one person. If you are separating or divorcing and a child under 16 (or 20 if in approved education or training) lives with you, then you are the person who should receive Child Benefit from the government. So, make sure you update the Child Benefit Office if your ex-partner is receiving Child Benefit, but the children now live with you. You can report any changes online or by telephone. The current Child Benefit rate is £21.05 per week for the eldest or only child and £13.95 per child per week for additional children and is paid out weekly.
Note that if your income is over £50,000 annually, you will be taxed on the Child Benefit. At £60,000 annual income the Child Benefit disappears altogether through taxation, and you can elect not to receive it. However, the Child Benefit earns you National Insurance credits that will count toward your State Pension, so it may be in your best interests to receive the Child Benefit and pay the tax. Equally if your income drops to below £50,000, and you are now eligible for Child Benefit, you can register your claim online. Child Benefit continues for 20 weeks after a 16 or 17-year-old leaves approved education or training and registers with the armed services or a government-sponsored career service.
Many single parents are not aware of all the benefits and financial support they may be able to claim for, so we hope that we were able to help you navigate the maze of financial resources out there! And as we all know, every little bit helps when raising a family, so be sure to apply for any financial help available to you and read our money saving tips for single parents.
If you are finding it hard to cope right now, there is help available through single parent organisation Gingerbread or your local Citizens Advice Bureau who will talk you through your options, including child benefit, child maintenance and more.
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia, USA. She frequently works with Lee Schwartz, a noted family law attorney in Philadelphia.
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