What benefits are working parents entitled to?

Boy with coins

There are some state benefits that all working parents are entitled to, and others which some parents qualify for, depending on their income. Considerable changes have been made in recent years to the benefits system – including the Government’s plans to replace all working-age benefits and tax credits with a single Universal Credit. Read on to find out how these changes will affect your family…

Will I get statutory maternity pay?

You qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP) if you earn on average at least £113 per week. You must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks up to the “qualifying week” – the 15th week before the week that your baby is due.

SMP is paid for 39 weeks, with the first six weeks paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings and the next 33 weeks paid at either £140.98 or 90% of your average weekly earnings – whichever is lower. You will be taxed on this money as usual.

No later than the qualifying week – or before preferably – you should tell your employer that you plan to take maternity leave. Tell them when the baby is due and when you intend to go on leave. Your employer might request this in writing. Once you’ve made your request, your employer must write to you within 28 days confirming your start and end dates.

Am I entitled to any extra maternity pay?

Possibly – but this is paid through your employer not by the Government. It will probably depend on how long you’ve been with your employer and their policy on maternity pay. Check your contract, look at the benefits section of your employer’s website and speak to the HR department, if they have one.

Do I have to pay back my maternity pay if I don’t return to work?

No, you don’t have to pay back any Statutory Maternity Pay if you don’t return to work. But if you got any additional maternity pay – 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 to the company.

Can I get help with childcare costs?

All three- and four-year-olds are entitled to at least 15 hours (30 hours if you’re working) of free nursery education per week for 38 weeks of the year, though those hours can be spread across the whole year if your provider operates throughout the year. This applies from the term after their third birthday and lasts until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday).

Free early years education can take place in nurseries, playgroups, preschools or at childminders, but it must be with an approved childcare provider. Some children aged two also qualify for some free childcare if you are in receipt of certain benefits.

Will I qualify for tax-free childcare?

Education Secretary Justine Greening recently published a guest post on Mumsnet in which she outlined the Government’s free childcare policy.

As part of its Universal Credit system, the Government’s tax-free childcare scheme was introduced on 21 April 2017. This is what used to be called the “childcare vouchers scheme” but has been replaced with the new Tax-Free Childcare Scheme. You’ll be able to open an online account, which you can pay into to cover the cost of childcare with a registered provider, and for every 80p you pay in, the Government will pay in an extra 20p. The scheme will apply to children up to the age of 12 (17 if the child has disabilities).

Can I claim 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.

What other Government help is there for parents?

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 received a major overhaul in 2013 and again in 2017 when the Government introduced its two-child limit. This means child benefit is now means tested and you can only receive it for two children, depending on when they were born.