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If you're on a low income, it can be difficult to afford things like computers for your child to do their homework on, or a smart phone to help them keep in touch with friends and family. Here, Kelly-Marie Jones, Welfare Benefits Specialist at financial hardship charity Turn2us, offers advice to parents on how to claim the help that's out there for hard-up families
Raising a family is expensive, and with the growing costs of housing, childcare and other essentials, it’s no surprise that more and more families are struggling to make ends meet.
There were 3.9 million children living in ‘relative poverty’ in the UK in 2014-2015, according to Department for Work and Pensions figures. That’s 200,000 more than the previous year.
Living in poverty can affect a child’s health and make them less likely to do well at school. Family life suffers too, with less money to spend on food, fuel, clothes, technology such as games consoles or computers, as well as school trips and holidays.
Yet financial support could be available to parents to help ease some of the pressure. Below are some practical tips on how families who are struggling can seek assistance.
The first step is to check that you are claiming the welfare support you are entitled to.
Most people know that they can receive Child Benefit when they are responsible for a child under 16, paid at £20.70 per week for your oldest child and £13.70 per week for other children.
Child Benefit may continue until the child is 20 if they are in relevant education and may continue for up to a few months after a child has left education if they meet the ‘extension period’ rules.
Child Tax Credit is another benefit that helps with the costs of raising a child, whether you are in-work or not. The amount you could receive depends on your income and circumstances.
If you are a single parent of a child under five years old, you may also be able to claim Income Support.
You may be entitled to other benefits, depending on your income, savings and other circumstances. Use the Turn2us Benefits Calculator to check what you are eligible for, the amounts you could receive and how to make a claim. Even if you have checked your entitlements before, it is worth doing so again, especially if you have recently experienced a change in circumstances.
Help with childcare costs
If you are working, you may be able to get help with childcare costs through the ‘Childcare Element’ of Working Tax Credit or through Employer Supported Childcare.
The Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit helps employed and self-employed parents on low incomes with the cost of registered or approved childcare. You can receive up to 70% of what you pay in childcare, up to a maximum of £175 per week for one child and £300 per week for two or more children. You can check your eligibility for Working Tax Credit and how to claim using the free Turn2us Benefits Calculator.
Employer Supporter Childcare means giving up some of your pay to receive childcare vouchers instead. Your employer can pay directly towards a childcare service, pay a subsidy to a registered provider outside of the workplace, or provide you with a childcare voucher through a company who administers the scheme.
Employers do not have to offer this support – you should speak with your employer to find out details of what they can provide. You can also work out if you would be better off having the vouchers or claiming the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit by using the HMRC childcare cost calculator.
The Employer Supported Childcare scheme is being phased out and the latest you will be able to make a claim is April 2018. It is being replaced by a new Tax-free Childcare scheme which is expected to start in early 2017. Find out more at Turn2us.org.uk.
Most people don’t realise that there are over 3,000 funds to help people on low incomes with different needs and circumstances.
The funds award one-off grants and other support to those who meet their eligibility criteria, and this could include grants for school equipment or trips, or essential living expenses.
Use the Turn2us Grants Search to see if you might be eligible for help and how to apply.
If you’re on a low income or claiming certain benefits, some local councils in England and Wales may be able to help with the cost of school clothing, home to school transport or free school meals. Other schemes are available in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Find out more at GOV.UK.
You can find lots of information on benefits, grants and other help for parents on the Turn2us Bringing up a Child factsheet. If you are worried about your financial situation and need further help, use the Turn2us Find an Adviser tool to find face-to-face advice in your local area.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: September 2016
Updated: May 2018