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Starting work

Going back into work after a long gap, or working for the first time, can be exciting and daunting, and means big changes for both you and your children. With so many things to organise it’s natural to feel a bit anxious, but remember that as a single parent you’re already an expert juggler.

Taking things step-by-step, allowing yourself time to make decisions, and learning what works for other parents will make going back to work straightforward.

We can help you get the peace of mind you need to feel confident in your new job:

  • Learn about your rights at work
  • Be aware of your childcare options
  • Understand your benefit and tax credit entitlements
  • Find out who to tell that you’ve started work.

Get started with the information below, and sign up to receive more tips by email.

Will I be any better off?

Whether you’ll be any better off (or at least stay at the same level) is most parents’ biggest consideration when starting work. For most there will still be financial support available, so make sure you still get all the help you can for you and your family.

To check whether you’ll be better off in work you can get a ‘better off calculation’ to compare all your future in-work income with your current income. These calculations aren’t simple, and there are some things they might not take into consideration. Remember to factor in how much it will cost to travel to work, and any additional expenses such as clothes and food.

You can use the Turn2us online calculator to check what benefits and tax credits you’ll be entitled to, or call our helpline to get a better off calculation from our advisers.

Depending on the age of your children, you may no longer be entitled to free school lunches, so you’ll need to allow for this as well. Check with your local council to see if you  still qualify.

Who do I need to tell?

You’ll need to let the tax credits office know that you’re starting work, and  if you want to claim for childcare costs. You need to do this within a month of starting, but the sooner the better as you could be entitled to more money than before you were working. The factsheets Benefits and tax credits when you work 16 hours or more and Tax credits when your circumstances change give more information on how your tax credits will be affected by the change.

If you have been claiming universal credit you will need to make sure that you inform your work coach that you’ll be working, as your universal credit will change, or perhaps even finish. If you will be using childcare such as a nursery or childminder you may be able to claim the ‘childcare element’ of universal credit. Ask your work coach for more details. Also check with your work coach how often you need to report your childcare expenses if you claim the childcare element of universal credit.

If you receive housing benefit you’ll need to inform your local council that you’re now working, and provide details of any childcare costs.. Lots of parents are still entitled to housing benefit if they’re working and renting, and your local council can calculate this for you.

If you’re receiving a council tax reduction this could be affected, so you’ll need to inform your council of the change. If you’ve previously claimed jobseekers allowance, employment and support allowance, or income support for a continuous period of 26 weeks or longer, you should continue to get full housing benefit for four weeks after you start work. Check with your local council to see if you’re eligible.

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More help with costs

Depending on your income, you could be entitled to help with health costs. If you’re claiming tax credits you could automatically be entitled to full cover of your health costs – you can check on this webpage. If you’re not automatically entitled to help, you could still get support through the NHS low income scheme.

Child maintenance

If you aren’t getting any child maintenance from your child’s other parent at the moment then this could make a big difference to your budget. All parents have a legal responsibility to support their child financially. Our interactive guide can help you decide on the best child maintenance arrangement for your family.

What should I do about childcare?

Arranging childcare when you move into work can be a big challenge, especially if you need to use formal childcare for the first time. Choosing childcare is a big decision, especially if it’s the first time you’ve had to think about it. The Family and Childcare Trust have lots of useful information on how to find childcare in your local area, and on how to choose a childcare provider.

You may already be receiving some free childcare which is provided by the government. Some two year-olds, and all three and four year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare, for 38 weeks a year. From September 2017, parents of three and four year-olds may be able to get 30 hours free childcare a week, check the childcare choices site to see if you are eligible for this.

For more information on claiming tax credits for childcare costs see the factsheet Benefits and tax credits when you work 16 hours or more or for a more in-depth guide see Working tax credit – Help with the cost of childcare which is produced by HMRC. If you’re claiming Universal Credit when you start work you can claim back up to 85% of your eligible childcare costs, see the childcare choices site for more details.

 What will I need on my first day?

Before you start work your employer should let you know what you need to take with you, either on your first day, or sometimes before. They are likely to ask you for:

Proof of your identity
Your national insurance number
Your bank details
Your P45 (if you have one). 

If you’ve been claiming jobseekers allowance or employment support allowance you should be issued with a P45. If you don’t have a P45 your employer will need to complete a starter checklist to make sure you pay the right amount of tax.

There is more information on tax when starting a job on the HMRC website. If you can’t find your national insurance number you can contact HMRC and they will find it for you.

 Getting support from others

You might want to share your experiences and get support from friends or other single parents who have been through similar changes. Joining a group, like a Gingerbread friendship group or chatting to other single parents in our online forums can be helpful and supportive. There are forum threads on both full-time and part-time work.

It can be helpful and motivating to read through stories from other single parents who have made the transition into work. On our website you’ll find some great examples of parents who have dealt with the challenges of moving into work, and how it has changed their lives for the better.

Looking for more information and useful tips on returning to work? Sign up below for our series of three email reminders with tailored advice for key milestones over the coming weeks.

You can also keep up to date with the latest news from Gingerbread by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter.

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