Benefits and help for working parents

Work plus family is a complicated equation financially because there are all sorts of costs involved in raising children, not least of which is childcare

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There are some state benefits that all working parents are entitled to, and others which some parents qualify for, depending on their income.

But considerable changes are afoot - the government plans to replace all working age benefits and tax credits with a single Universal Credit. It's set to run alongside a new Work Programme. But until those changes take effect...

Maternity pay

Maternity pay kicks in from when you start your maternity leave, but it doesn't necessarily continue for all the time you're off work, as you'll have discovered. So, belt-tightening is the name of the game for most new parents - especially during maternity and paternity leave, and on into the future (for ever, really).

Don't despair: not being at work means you'll save money on, for example, travel and lunches and drinks in the bar at the end of a tough day (some of your days will still be tough, but there's less likely to be a trip to the pub at the end of them now you're a new mum).

Also, a bit of financial help is at hand in the form of child benefit and, for those on low incomes, family tax credit. 

But please note if you're new to working parent-dom that the benefit structure is set for a major overhaul: the government plans to replace all working age benefits and tax credits with a single Universal Credit. It's set to run alongside a new Work Programme. 


Child benefit

From January 2013, households where at least one person earns more than £50,000 will have their child benefit means-tested. Depending on their income, child benefit will either be stopped or clawed back through extra tax payments.

If this is your first baby, you'll receive around £20 a week; for second and subsequent children, around £13 a week. For the exact current amount, see Directgov.

Child benefit makes a big difference to many families' monthly income; there was widespread dismay on Mumsnet when the government announced its changes in 2010. But if you're new to parenting, it's going to be important to take into account that it won't continue past 2013, if you or your partner pays higher rate tax.

Childcare vouchers

As of last year, the government offers a tax-free childcare scheme. You can find out all about it here.

Tax credits

Tax credits are actually benefits ie government payments. If you work more than 16 hours a week, or are in a couple where you both work more than 16 hours a week, and are responsible for at least one child under 16, you may be eligible depending on your (joint) income.

If you work but are on a low income, you may qualify for working tax credit. Some parents may qualify for both sorts of credits.

To find out whether you're eligible for tax credits, and what to do if you are, use this questionnaire on the government's Directgov website.

Not returning to work?

In that case, you won't have to pay back any Statutory Maternity Pay.

But if you got more than SMP, check the small print of your company's policy - you may have to pay back some of the extra money if you don't return.

Free nursery education

All three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. This applies until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday). Free nursery education can take place in nurseries, playgroups, preschools or at childminders.

For more information about free nursery education in your area, contact your Family Information Service (FIS) online or call 08002 346 346.

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Last updated: about 2 years ago