Single parent benefits
Few life changes affect your finances as much as becoming a single parent. You may - possibly for the first time - find yourself eligible for state benefits.
Below we've outlined the range of single parent benefits for which you may qualify. On the Talk boards, Mumsnetters who've been there recommend making an appointment to see the Lone Parent Adviser at your local Job Centre, who can guide you through what may feel like a thorny maze.
This is for people on a low income who don't have to sign on as unemployed. Until a few years ago it was available to lone parents if they had at least one child aged under 12, but since 2008 the rules have gradually changed and since May 2012 it's only been available to those with a child under five.
Before your child hits five you'll receive a letter telling you you're being moved on to Jobseeker's Allowance instead (the exceptions are if you have a child with a certain disability level, if you get carer's allowance, or if you have a foster child - talk to your Jobcentre adviser to get more information).
Jobseeker's Allowance is for people who are unemployed and looking for work, so this change to Income Support entitlement is all about is encouraging lone parents into work more quickly.
Given that, you won't be surprised to know it's been mired in controversy, with organisations such as Gingerbread arguing that it gives single parents a hard time, forcing them to look for the trickiest jobs (ie those with child-friendly hours) in the toughest financial climate any of us remember.
• Child maintenance guide
• How much child maintenance should be paid?
• How to survive on one income
• Tax credits
• Your housing rights
• Universal credit
For its part, the government says lone parents with a child aged 12 or under have the right to limit the hours they're available to work, and will not be expected to work outside their child's normal school hours.
Working Tax Credits
There are two credits:
- Child Tax Credit, based on your income and number of children
- Working Tax Credit, based on your income as a low-paid worker
Tax credits allow you to claim up to 70% of your childcare costs, provided your children are with a registered childcare provider and you're using the time to do something career-orientated.
If you're renting your home and on a low income, you may qualify for housing benefit. You won't be eligible if you have savings of more than £16,000. Full-time students don't usually qualify, but if you have children you may do.
- In Work Credit is a tax-free payment of £40 a week (£60 if you're in London) for lone parents who, having been on benefits for a year or more, get a job for at least 16 hours a week.
- If you're on Income Support and have a mortgage, you may be eligible for help with paying it.
- You might also qualify for a council tax discount.
Universal Credit is a new one-for-all benefit that will replace income support, working tax credits, chid tax credits, housing benefits, Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.
It's a major overhaul of the benefits system, and the government says it will streamline and simplify claims. It's also designed to ensure a system where people are better off if they're working than they are if they're on benefits.
It rolls out from April 2013 in geographical pockets (Tameside, Oldham, Wigan and Warrington) and countrywide from October 2013, although it's expected to take until 2017 for the entire switchover to be completed.
What Mumsnetters say about benefits for lone parents
- Look at entitledto.com - I found it very helpful. Simpson
- I've always worked. It does involve a lot of juggling sometimes - I don't have any family nearby - but overall it's been fine. When I first became a lone parent I was getting a lot of tax credits, which really helped. But now my salary has gone up so I am quite a lot better off than I would have been on benefits. Purpleroses
- I moved from Income Support to Job Seeker's Allowance a couple of years ago. My lone parent adviser said they were more understanding about the types of jobs I would be expected to apply for - you can restrict your search to school-hours jobs, and within a smaller travelling distance. It wasn't a huge change making the switch, it just meant I had to sign on once a fortnight once I'd dropped the children at school. The amount I got was the same. Shinyprettything
- It is harder to get a job when you're a single parent, but it's not impossible. I did it and I know plenty of others that did it, too. OutragedAtThePriceofFreddos
- Chat to other lone parents about benefits