Family benefits are designed to help families cope with the costs of raising children. Different benefits kick in at different stages of a family's life - for example, there are benefits for women who are pregnant, who have given birth, who have adopted children and who are raising young children.
But many family benefits are changing, and some (for some people) are disappearing altogether. Broadly speaking, this is a time of decreasing benefits, which means it's more important than ever to know what's out there, and what you might be entitled to claim while you can.
If you're having a baby, you might be able to get statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance, and your partner may be able to get statutory paternity pay. There's more information about these in our Work, families and childcare info.
Financial help when you've had a baby
If you're on benefits or tax credits because of your low income, you might be eligible for a maternity grant from the Social Fund (also known as a Sure Start maternity grant), which is a fixed amount of £500.
Since April 2011, however, this grant is only paid if the new baby (or babies if you have twins) is the only child under 16 in the household.
If you're eligible for the grant, you can claim via your local benefits office or antenatal clinic, or online at www.dwp.gov.uk.
Family benefits when you've got children
The main benefit for a woman (or couple) with children is Child Benefit. At present, this is a universal benefit - so it's available to all parents living in the UK, provided they're looking after their child themselves. You don't need to have paid National Insurance (NI) contributions to get Child Benefit, and it doesn't matter what your household income is.
To be eligible, you have to be responsible for a child under 16, or a young person up to the age of 20 who is doing full-time education up to A-level standard or is on certain approved training courses.
You get Child Benefit for each child you're responsible for, but there are different rates for your eldest child than for subsequent siblings.
If you have a child who is disabled, you may be able to claim Disability Living Allowance for your child.
And in the dreadful event that a child dies, Child Benefit continues for eight weeks after the week in which they die. If a child dies in his or her first week of life, Child Benefit is paid for the eight weeks after that week.
To claim Child Benefit, you need to complete form CH2, which you can get from HM Revenue & Customs enquiry centres or Jobcentre Plus offices. For further information, visit Directgov or HMRC's Child Benefit page. You'll need your NI number.
"When I claimed maternity allowance they took quite a long time to process - you can call to chase them up though, you just need your NI number handy." armbow
If you live with the other parent of your child(ren), Child Benefit is paid to the mother. If you do not live with the other parent, Child Benefit is paid to whichever parent the child lives with.
Changes to Child Benefit
From January 2013, child benefit is being withdrawn from households with a higher rate taxpayer – and the threshold for higher rate tax by then will be £42,000.
It's still unclear precisely how the change will be implemented, but government announcements spelling this out are likely to be heavily reported in the media (and heavily discussed on MN).
"My feeling is that by 2013/14, the whole PAYE, HMRC, taxpaying, income-declaration, benefit-claiming issue will have been reformed and streamlined. It's too complex and inconsistent at the moment, there have been too many administrative errors made recently, there's too much duplication and it simply isn't geared for an age in which people don't do the same job for 30 or 40 years at a stretch." Chil1234
If you're receiving Child Benefit now, it's worth thinking about how you'll make up the shortfall in your budget if this benefit is cut in future.
Work and benefits for lone parents
Separating from your partner obviously changes your financial situation and one element of this is changes to your benefits, so it's really important to check out what you're entitled to post-separation.
You can do this by going to Directgov or calling the Gingerbread Helpline on 0808 802 0925.
When you claim benefits as a lone parent will depend on whether or not you and your partner have separated permanently. Similarly, if you've separated but are still sharing the same house, you may not be entitled to claim as a lone parent.
Checklist of benefits lone parents may be eligible to claim:
- Child Benefit This is paid to parents who have day-to-day responsibility for a child under the age of 16 (or 18 if they're in full-time education). From January 2013, it's set to be withdrawn from households with a higher rate taxpayer. If you split up from your higher rate taxpayer partner, and you don't pay higher rate tax, you may be entitled to Child Benefit again. If you become a higher rate taxpayer you'll lose the benefit.
- Income Support Since October 2010, lone parents whose youngest child is seven or over are no longer entitled to Income Support solely on the grounds of being a single parent. Single parents whose youngest child is under seven can still claim it.
- Employment and Support Allowance You may be entitled to this if you can't work due to a health condition or disability.
- In Work Credit This is a tax-free payment given to lone parents who have been claimed certain benefits for a year or more, and go back to work for at least 16 hours a week. It's paid for 52 weeks on top of other working benefits. Visit Directgov to see the current rates.
- Help with childcare costs You can get help with your childcare costs if you're working, provided you place your child with a registered childcare provider. And Working Tax Credit allows you to claim up to 80 per cent of your eligible childcare costs.
- Job Grant If you move directly from benefits to work, putting in at least 16 hours a week, you may be eligible for this grant. Visit Directgov to see how much money you may get.
Disclaimer: Any content in our family money section is intended as general information only. For specific advice about your personal financial situation, get advice from qualified, independent, regulated professionals.