One million hit by two-child benefit cap losing £237 a month – how to get extra support
MORE than one million children are now hit by the two-child cap on benefits leaving hard up families losing out on up to £237 a month.
New figures released today by the government show the number of families affected is rising.
It comes days after one mums landmark fight against the cap failed in the high court, meaning that the cap will stay in place.
Parents can claim the child elements of Universal Credit and tax credits for no more than two children born after April 2017.
The cap was put in place during government austerity by then Chancellor George Osborne.
More than 1.1 million kids are now affected by the cap, the latest figures from the government show, up from 900,000 last year.
The number of families hit by the cap grew by 67,000 over the past year, when Universal Credit claims have rocketed to more than six million because of Covid.
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit
IF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:
- Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit payout.
- Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
- Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the Government for emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
- Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax by applying for a Council Tax Reduction. Alternatively, you might be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments to help cover your rent.
- Foodbanks – If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.
More than half of all families affected by the two-child cap are in work. But low pay means they can claim in-work benefits, except for a third or subsequent child.
Campaigners have warned that the cap pushes more children and families into poverty and more people will be caught up in the cap over time.
Removing the two-child cap on benefits would lift 200,000 children out of poverty and lessen the depth of poverty for another 600,000 children, according to the charity Child Action Poverty Group (CPAG).
Alison Graham, the boss of CPAG, said: “Universal credit should be a port in the storm for families but the two-child policy means many are denied the support they need for children – just when they need it most.
"The pandemic has shown us how quickly circumstances can change but this policy limits the life chances of kids by reducing them from a person to a number.
"The only way to prevent more children from being damaged by poverty is for the Government to end the two-child policy.”
A change in circumstances can push some parents into the two-child benefits cap trap.
One single mum of three kids told the charity: “I can’t even afford to buy my baby the basics like a pram, bottles… I didn’t realise how much this would impact me, and after splitting with my partner it’s caused a massive impact.
"My kids are picking up on how stressed and depressed I am that I can’t even afford to be a mummy and take care of them right.
"I never planned to be single (mum) with children and it’s making my mental health so bad.”
What support can parents get for kids?
There's a range of support for parents, from child benefit to childcare help.
Anyone affected by the two-child cap on benefits may still be able to get other support – here's what you could get.
You can claim Child Benefit if you're responsible for bringing up a child under the age of 16.
For your oldest child you can get £21.15 a week with the benefit.
Then any other children you have get £14 a week each.
The payment comes every four weeks and is paid directly into your bank account, but it can be paid weekly if you get Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or if you're a single parent.
You're also eligible if they're aged under 20 and still in full-time education up to A level or equivalent, or on certain approved training courses.
There are no specific age rules for the person making the claim so it's open to all parents in need of the support.
To apply you can fill out an online form or call the Child Benefit Office on 0300 200 3100.
If you’ve split up with the parent of your child, you will be eligible for child maintenance.
The exact amount will vary depending on a number of factors including how much the non-resident parent earns, how many kids you have and how many nights a week they look after them.
If both parents split childcare evenly with the same number of overnights, then no child maintenance will be paid through CMS – even if one parents earns more than the other.
But if you arrange things privately, a higher-earning parent may choose to contribute more financial to take care of their kids.
There is a useful calculator that can help you work out how much you should be getting.
You'll need to know how much the other parent earns (including state pension), any benefits they get, and the number of nights your children will be staying with them.
Help with kids school uniform costs
There's a wealth of support for kids at school if parents are struggling.
Hard-up parents may be able to claim up to £150 to help cover the cost of school uniforms.
The extra money and support is typically available to households on benefits, but the amount on offer varies a lot depending on where you live.
Free food vouchers
Parents and mums-to-be can get Healthy Start vouchers worth up to £442 a year.
The Healthy Start scheme is a Government initiative that provides vouchers for struggling families to put towards milk, vegetables and other foods.
You can find out more about it, including who is eligible and how to claim here.
You can get up to £500 every three months – up to a maximum of £2,000 a year – for each of your children to help with the costs of childcare.
If your child is disabled you can claim £1,000 every three months, up to £4,000 per year.
To receive the tax-free benefit you need to create an online childcare account.
For every £8 you pay into this account, the government will add £2 to use to pay your approved provider.
You should bear in mind that you can’t claim tax-free childcare if you receive working tax credit, child tax credit, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers.
Your tax credits will stop immediately if you successfully apply for tax-free childcare. You will also have to cancel your Universal Credit and childcare vouchers.
Use the government’s calculator tool to work out which option will work best for you.
15 hours free childcare
All three to four year old children in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare – amounting to 570 hours per year – from the term after their 3rd birthday.
The free allowance is usually taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year, but it is possible to take it at a time that suits you.
For example, you could take fewer hours over more weeks.
The free early education and childcare must be with an approved childcare provider and stops when your child starts school.
Parents are expected to cover extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.
30 hours free childcare
Working parents may be eligible to get more hours of free childcare for their three to four year olds.
In order to access the extra 15 hours per week, you must be working at least 16 hours a week on average and earning the National Minimum Wage or more.
For example, over the next 3 months you expect to earn at least £1,853.28 – the National Living Wage for people over 23.
If you have a partner, they’ll need to expect to earn at least this much too.
You can get 30 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year – during school term time.
You may be able to get free childcare for 52 weeks if you use fewer than 30 hours per week.
Check with your childcare provider to find out if this is something they offer. You can apply online through the government’s website.
Once the application has been approved, you’ll get a code for 30 hours free childcare to give to your childcare provider.
Free childcare for 2-year-olds
Parents living in England and claiming certain benefits can also access free childcare for their two-year-olds.
You are entitled to the extra free childcare if you currently receive:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Universal Credit, and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
- tax credits, and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
- the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
However, you may still have to cover extra costs like meals, nappies or trips. Asylum seekers are also able to access this benefit.
Help for parents who are studying
There are also some lesser known schemes to help young parents who are still in education pay for childcare costs.
If you’re under 20 and in school or Sixth Form you may be eligible for weekly payments through the Care to Learn scheme, which is designed to help out over the summer holidays.
This could give you up to £160 a week, or £175 in London, towards childcare and is paid directly to your provider.
If you’re over 19 and in further education you can apply for Discretionary Learner Support, which can be used to pay for childcare and other costs such as accommodation and travel.
And university students on full-time courses can apply for grants to cover childcare costs for children younger than 15.
These grants are worth up to £307.95 a week if you have two or more children.
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