Your rights and benefits

Finding your way through the maze of government financial support can be tricky. There are also major changes being introduced as part of the government overhaul of the welfare system.

Universal credit will absorb some benefits and tax credits, which will be rolled up into a single monthly payment. If you live in some areas of the UK, you may already be receiving universal credit.

If you don’t live in an area where universal credit is being piloted, you can still apply for tax credits and some benefits separately. It’s expected that most families who receive tax credits and benefits will move on to universal credit by 2017.

What benefits are all parents entitled to?

All parents are entitled to claim child benefit. Child benefit is £20.30 a week for your first child and £13.40 a week for subsequent children. However, you may be liable to the high income child benefit tax charge if you, or your partner, has an individual income of more than £50,000. This means that part or all of your child benefit is clawed back. HM Revenue & Customs has details of how to claim child benefit.

You will be able to receive free dental care and free prescriptions while you’re pregnant and until your baby is a year old. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, all new mums and mums-to-be are entitled to this. Ask your GP or midwife for an exemption certificate at your booking appointment.

What benefits are available to working parents?

If you’re pregnant and an employee, you may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). SMP is a weekly payment from your employer. You can claim maternity pay if:
  • You’ve been working for the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due. You can work this out by finding the Sunday of the week your baby is due, then counting back 15 weeks.
  • You’re earning, before tax, an average of £109 a week. This is called the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions. You have to earn more than this amount before you start paying National Insurance.

SMP is paid for a continuous period of up to 39 weeks. For the first six weeks you will be paid 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings with no upper limit.

For the following 33 weeks, you will be paid the standard rate of £139.58, or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever rate is lower.

If you’re not eligible for SMP, you may qualify for maternity allowance. There are two rates of maternity allowance:

  • The higher rate applies if you’ve changed jobs during pregnancy, are self-employed, or have recently stopped working. You’ll get £139.58 a week, or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever rate is lower, for up to 39 weeks.
  • The lower rate applies if you're not eligible for SMP or the higher rate of maternity allowance, for example, if you're unemployed. You'll receive £27 a week for up to 14 weeks.

Maternity allowance can be paid from 11 weeks before your baby is due, for up to 39 weeks.

You and your partner may also have the option of taking shared parental leave. If you decide to end your maternity leave early, your partner can take your remaining entitlement as shared parental leave. If he's eligible, your partner can also claim statutory pay during the time he takes off work.

What income-related benefits may I be entitled to?

Child tax credit is a top-up for families, while working tax credit is paid to employees and self-employed people. Both payments are based on the income of the family or individual. The number of hours you work may also be a factor.

As a rough measure, a couple with one child could claim tax credits if they earn less than £26,000 per year. Child tax credit is paid to the main carer of the children.

If you’re unsure whether you’re entitled to tax credits or not, the best advice is to apply anyway, just in case. HM Revenue & Customs has more information and an online questionnaire you can fill in to find out if you qualify. You can phone the tax credit helpline on 0345 300 3900, or use the textphone service on 0345 300 3909.

There are plans to subsume tax credits and five other benefits into the universal credit system during 2016. Find out about universal credit.

What benefits are there for single parents and low earners?

You’ll be eligible for the Healthy Start scheme if you receive certain benefits. You must be at least 10 weeks pregnant, or have a child under four years old. If you’re under 18 and pregnant, you automatically qualify for the scheme. Find out if you qualify at the NHS’s Healthy Start page.

The Healthy Start scheme provides:

If you’re a single parent or on a low income, you may be able to claim to other benefits, such as income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA), or housing benefit.

If you’re on a low income and receive certain benefits, you may also be able to get a council tax reduction. You should contact your local council for more information and to apply.

You may also qualify for a £500 Sure Start maternity grant. This is designed to help you buy items you will need for your first baby or twins. You don’t have to pay the money back, and it won’t affect your other benefits. The latest you can claim the Sure Start maternity grant is three months after your baby is born.

You may be able to get help with paying some or all of your rent. How much you’ll be able to receive depends on your circumstances, income, and the type of property you live in. GOV.UK has more information about claiming housing benefit.

Where do I go to claim benefits?

Call in to your local Jobcentre Plus office. You can find out where your nearest office is in the business section of the phone book. If you’re making a new claim, call the free helpline on 0800 555 6688. Your Post Office may also have information leaflets and application forms for some benefits.

I’m a carer, not a parent. Can I claim benefits?

Yes. As a carer you are usually treated as the equal of a parent, and can claim benefits such as tax credits and child benefit. If you care for a disabled child, Carers UK has information and advice.

I’m a young parent. What benefits can I get?

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you will automatically qualify for the Healthy Start scheme. If you’re under 20 years old and in education In England, the Care to Learn scheme can help you pay for the cost of childcare.

You can claim Care to Learn funding if you are under 20 years old and you:
  • Start a course of learning or training in a school or sixth-form college that receives some public funding.
  • Use a childcare provider registered with Ofsted. You can learn more about this at GOV.UK.
  • Care for your own child. That means both mums and dads are eligible.
  • Live in England.

Read more in our young parents’ section.You may also be able to claim a 16-year-old to 19-year-old bursary of £1,200 a year through your school or college.

I’m a single parent. What other help is there?

If you’re a single parent, you can apply for child maintenance. The Child Maintenance Service and Gingerbread have lots of information on this. If you’re a single parent living in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland is a useful resource.

Where can I go for additional help?

The Turn2us website takes you through a question-and-answer wizard, and then tells you which benefits you may be entitled to. It only covers England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in Northern Ireland, try the NIdirect website instead.

If you have difficulty understanding the system, or don’t think you’ve been treated fairly, there are many places to go for help. These include independent and council-run welfare rights advice agencies, disability organisations, and law centres.

You can also find information at your local Citizens Advice Bureau and Family Lives.
Last reviewed: March 2014

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