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Ask an Expert - Children and Childcare - July/August 2011

Every month, through our Ask an Expert feature, Turn2us users are given the chance to ask a panel panel of experts their specific questions relating to benefits, grants and managing money.

Important information

The answers given on this page were correct at the time of publication and some of the details may have changed. This page is provided for archive information only.

See Benefits: Expecting or bringing up a child and Benefits: Education costs for current information

Your Questions Answered

We invited you to submit your questions on Children and Childcare to the Ask an Expert panel. Here are the answers to a selection of the questions we received.

On this page you will find:

Expert Panel

Julie Mitchell of GingerbreadJulie Mitchell

Advice Development Manager

Gingerbread (link opens in a new window) - providing expert advice, practical support and campaigning for single parents.

Doreen Jones of Family LivesDoreen Jones

Senior Family Support Co-ordinator

Family Lives (link opens in a new window) - the parenting advice and support charity.

Karen HolmesKaren Holmes

Welfare Benefits Specialist


Childcare and Studying

  • I have a service user who is a lone parent on Income Support. As she is over 19, she does not qualify for any help with tuition fees and childcare costs to study an Access Course. Can you advise of any support or assistance for her to study and ensure her child is looked after. (Rachel)

Julie Mitchell of GingerbreadJulie Mitchell: From September 2011, prospective students claiming Income Support or Working Tax Credit will not be entitled for exemption from paying fees like they have been in the recent past, unless they come under the categories below. Full fee remission is available for 2011/12 if:

• You are aged 16 to 19 on the 31 August before you enrol on the course. In Wales you do not have to pay fees while you are aged 16 to 18; or

• You are aged 19 to 24 and the course you are doing leads to your first level 2 qualification. This is the same as five or more GCSEs at grades A-C, an intermediate GNVQ or NVQ level two. After completing level 2, you can also go on to take a level three qualification (e.g. an Access course, two A levels or equivalent, or an advanced GNVQ) and get the fee remission; or 

• You are aged 25 or over and your course leads to your first level two qualification or your first level three qualification if you have not already taken a level two course; or

• If you are claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or the work related activity component of Employment and Support Allowance, your college should not charge tuition fees.

Single parents on Income Support may still be able to get some help for paying the fees from the college’s Discretionary Learner Support Funds in England and Financial Contingency Funds in Wales. These funds are not guaranteed and are meant to be used to pay for childcare, emergencies, accommodation, and course-related equipment and travel costs. Colleges set their own criteria and administer the grants in different ways. The payment could be a loan or a grant. However, funding from colleges is more limited than in the recent past and many single parents find that there is not enough in the funds by the time they apply and that the fund is prioritised for existing students.

It is advisable to speak to the college to see if they offer any free courses.

The only other option is charitable grants that may cover small amounts or one-off fees, but are unlikely to cover childcare costs for a whole year. Contact the Horizons Education Fund for single parents (link opens in a new window) or the Educational Grants Service (link opens in a new window) for more information. You could also use the Turn2us Grants Search database.


  • My daughter is 17 and her baby is now 6 months old. How can she get help with childcare so she can return to education? (Gingerbread FAQ - ENGLAND ONLY)

Julie Mitchell of GingerbreadJulie Mitchell: As she is under the age of 20, your daughter can claim 'Care to Learn' funds for help with the costs of childcare while studying. To apply, she can contact the Learner Support Helpline (link opens in a new window). The childcare she uses must be registered with Ofsted (link opens in a new window). It cannot be provided by a friend or family member, unless they are a registered childcare professional and they do not live with her. It can also help with any extra travelling costs she has because of taking her child to the child carer.

The maximum amount she can claim is up to £160 a week, or £175 if she lives in London. It does not matter how many hours she studies each week or how long the course is. Receiving these payments will not usually affect the amount of benefits or Tax Credits she may receive.

If she works, she cannot claim help with childcare costs through Working Tax Credit if these are already being paid for by the Care to Learn scheme. She may be able to claim Working Tax Credit for any additional childcare not covered by Care to Learn.

She may also be eligible to apply for:

  • Discretionary Learner Support Funds: these funds are to help with course and living costs, including childcare. The college decides whether she qualifies and how much she will receive. The decision is based on her income and circumstances but single parents on a low income may be treated as in priority need for these funds. Any amounts from these funds that you receive for childcare costs or course costs will not affect the amount of benefits you receive. If you receive payments for day-to-day living costs as a lump sum, this is treated as savings rather than income when calculating means-tested benefits. If you receive such payments regularly they are treated as income and the amount of means-tested benefits you receive will be reduced. Payments from these funds do not affect Tax Credits. See the Gov.UK website for more information on Discretionary Learner Support (link opens in a new window)
  • 16-19 Bursary: from 2011/12 students in England aged 16-19 can apply for a bursary. Guaranteed bursaries of £40 a week during term time are available for students who are in care, are care leavers or are claiming Income Support themselves. If she is not in one of these groups, schools, colleges and training providers can use their discretion to award additional bursaries to those they think face the biggest financial barriers to staying in education. For example, bursaries can be awarded for the cost of transport, food or equipment. See the Gov.UK website for more information on applying for the 16-19 bursary (link opens in a new window)

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Working Tax Credit entitlement

  • My friends have been turned down for a Working Tax Credit although as a couple they have two children under 14 and only one is working 40 hours pw earning just £22,000 per annum. Does this seem right to you?? How low do earnings have to go to qualify? Thank you. (David)

Karen HolmesKaren Holmes: A person's maximum amount of Working Tax Credit (WTC) is made up of different elements. For example, there is a basic element for all claimants, an extra element if you work 30 hours or more, and a childcare element (for people who pay a registered childcare provider), there are others as well. These elements are all added together and then compared to your income. Because of this there is not one set earnings level under which people will qualify, it will be different for each claimant.

On the information we have about your friends it seems they would lose entitlement to WTC at around £17,700 but they would be best putting their details into the Turn2us Benefit Calculator and carrying out a full entitlement check. It seems they will be entitled to some Child Tax Credit and if they are in rented accommodation they may be entitled to some Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland, Wales or HB Northern Ireland) to help towards their housing costs as well.


  • I work full time 40 hrs pw. My wife is returning to work starting a part-time job (12hrs pw) at a school in September. We have three children so we will need some childcare (before and after school clubs). Am I right in thinking that my wife needs 16 hours pw to be entitled to an increase in our tax credits? My wife also has a small business that she runs in her spare time. Can we count these hours in the calculation? regards. (Nathan)

Karen HolmesKaren Holmes: In order to qualify for the Childcare element of Working Tax Credit, to help towards paying for registered childcare, you are right in thinking you would both need to be doing at least 16 hours of paid work per week. People who have more than one job can add the total hours from each together, this includes self-employed people who can include hours spent working 'in expectation of payment'.


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Childcare costs and Tax Credit overpayment

  • I am finding it difficult with childcare costs over the holidays. I will not be getting any Tax Credits for the next few months as I was overpaid. I am also in a lot of debt. I am a single mother with two children. Is there any help for me anywhere? (Vivienne)

Julie Mitchell of GingerbreadJulie Mitchell: If you are working 16 hours a week or more, you may be entitled to help towards childcare costs as part of your tax credits claim, even if you are repaying an overpayment. You can claim for the long school holidays or for your average costs over 52 weeks. Contact the Tax Credit helpline (link opens in a new window) and see the HM_Revenue_and_Customs_(HMRC)_guide_to_help_with_childcare_costs_(link_opens_in_a_new_window_PDF_file_size_335kb).

You may be able to prevent your Tax Credit payments stopping, especially where there was an official error and you did everything to ensure your claim was paid correctly. If you have to repay, you usually receive 75-90% of your payments whilst they take back what you owe but if you only had about £10 per week Tax Credits, the payments stop until all the overpayment is repaid. Note: Your claim has not come to an end. The amount you are entitled to is being used to repay the overpayment. Seek independent benefits advice for more information. You can use the Turn2us Find an Advisor tool to find a local adviser.

If you pay rent and/or Council Tax, repaying Tax Credits means you are now living on a lower income so you could become entitled to Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland, Wales or HB Northern Ireland) and Council Tax Benefit (available in England, Scotland, Wales only) for the first time or an increased amount. Ask your local council about claiming to be sure you are not missing out. You can find contact details for your local council on the Gov.UK website (link opens in a new window).

Independent free debt advice is available from National Debtline (link opens in a new window). They can assist you with setting an arrangement to pay an affordable amount to the companies you owe money to without leaving you short on basic living expenses. If you are already paying back something towards your debts, inform the companies of your decreased income and extra childcare expenses to try to negotiate a lower repayment rate.

Finally, this may be a good time to check your options on child maintenance if possible. Any amount of child maintenance received will not lead to a reduction in your benefits or Tax Credits, so it is worth ensuring that you are being fairly paid. See the Child Maintenance Options website for more information (link opens in a new window).

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Whether to give up work to care for child

  • I work 16 hrs a week at present but have hit childcare problems. The kids are nearly 10 and nearly 1. If I resign, will I get money from benefits immediately or do I have to wait weeks? Also I am in council property. Or is it worth me dropping to 12 hrs per week. (Gabrielle)

Julie Mitchell of GingerbreadJulie Mitchell: No, you will not have to wait several weeks before payments are made if you claim Income Support. You can claim Income Support because you have a child under seven years of age. There are no penalties or ‘sanctions’ for giving up work, regardless of the reason for leaving work. If you meet all the conditions of entitlement, you can be paid from your date of claim.

Income Support is means tested so you may not be entitled to claim if, for example, you have savings or capital worth over £16,000. If this is the case, you can try claiming Jobseeker's Allowance if you have paid enough national insurance contributions recently. Sometimes people are sanctioned for giving up work if they claim Jobseeker's allowance and may not be paid for up to six months. This is unlikely to happen to you because you arguably have a very good reason why you had to give up work because of the childcare problems that you tried your best to resolve is. If you are refused, you should appeal and ask for a hardship payment, which pays you 60% of the usually rate.

You will still be entitled to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. If you are entitled to Income Support, you will receive full help to pay your rent and Council Tax if you also claim Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland, Wales or HB Northern Ireland) and Council Tax Benefit (available in England, Scotland, Wales only). If you claim Jobseeker's Allowance, you may not be entitled to the full rate.

Choosing to work 12 hours a week may be important to you to keep up your work skills but you will no longer be entitled to Working Tax Credit including help to pay childcare costs. This can make part time work difficult to manage. You may able to get a small amount of Income Support but Income Support is reduced by the amount of your earnings over £20 per week. It is worth getting a better off calculation done by a benefit adviser to compare your options.

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Grandparents bringing up their grandchildren

  • If a grandmother takes custody of her granddaughter because the child's mother is deemed unfit to look after her, what benefits can the grandmother get to help her look after the child? (Neil)
  • My son has just been told that he is a father to a one year old child and has been asked if he can take charge of this child. He is single and works away from home during the week. We do not know what help we would get. We would rather my son carried on working, with me looking after the child in the week and the father taking over at weekends and holidays. My husband works full time and I run a smallholding that we have. Thank you for your time in this matter and any answers would be gratefully welcomed as this child is going through the Court for Protection and possible fostering out to other families that I feel as a grandmother already is not correct. (Stella)

Karen HolmesKaren Holmes: Whether a grandparent bringing up their grandchild will be entitled to benefits for that child will often depend on the arrangement.

You don't have to be the child's parent to claim Child Benefit, but you must be responsible for the child, which usually means they live with you. This benefit isn't means tested, so income and savings are not taken into account. Only one person can claim Child Benefit for a particular child, so if more than one person makes a claim there is an order of priority.

Child Tax Credit is also a payment to support families with children but this is for people on a low income so income will be taken into account. Again, you don't have to be the parent, a grandparent can claim it if they are responsible for a child and that child usually lives with them. Like with Child Benefit, only one person can claim Child Tax Credit for a particular child.

If a single grandparent, under Pension Credit age, takes on responsibility for a child under seven, they may be entitled to Income Support as a lone parent depending on their income and savings. The government intends to reduce the age limit to a child under five for new claims made from October 2011.

There can be difficulties if benefit offices dispute whether a grandparent is the primary carer when it comes to benefit claims, so it is important to seek advice from an experienced adviser. Use our Find an Adviser tool.

There are also payments which local authorities can make depending on the arrangement under which the child has been placed with the grandparent. So it is worth contacting your local authority to see if you qualify for a payment, or discretionary payment, through them. You can find the contact details for your local authority on the Gov.UK website (link opens in a new window).

An organisation such as Grandparents' Association (link opens in a new window) can provide further advice and information about the financial help available to grandparents who are raising a grandchild.

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Adoption and benefits

  • I am applying to adopt a child and am finding the benefits system confusing. Am I entitled to benefits if receiving a reduced salary and Statutory Adoption Pay whilst on a year's adoption leave? (Lou)

Karen HolmesKaren Holmes: Once your child is placed with you you will be entitled to Child Benefit on top of your reduced salary and Statutory Adoption Pay. Whether you are entitled to other benefits will depend on your income. If you input your details into the Turn2us Benefit Calculator, based on your situation once your child is with you, then any benefit entitlement will be identified for you. This could include Child Tax Credit. Tax Credits are initially based on the previous year's income, so remember to input your estimated income for the current year as well if it will be lower than last year.

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Further help and information

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The opinions expressed are those of the expert only. The answers and associated material are for general information only and do not constitute financial, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information as an alternative to financial, legal or professional advice from a qualified professional for your own particular situation. The answers are given in response to specific questions submitted by other users. You should not rely on this information alone to make (or refrain from making) any decisions.

While effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, Turn2us does not accept any liability for this information. It is the responsibility of users to check the accuracy of relevant facts and opinions given as part of any answer before entering into any commitment based upon the information given.

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Date of publication: August 2011

Updated: 7 August 2012

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