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Benefit changes for single parents

This page summarises the changes to benefits, tax credits and the national minimum wage announced by the government in the last two years. We have highlighted the changes that affect single parents below. 

The government is making changes to welfare benefits and tax credits, income tax rates and childcare. Many of these changes will affect single parents.

If you are currently receiving benefits or tax credits, or if you think you will need to make a claim soon, please remember that some changes are coming into effect now, but others will not come into force until 2018 or even 2020. 

Your tax credits and welfare benefit calculations, the amount of tax you pay and the amount of free childcare you are entitled to will depend on your individual circumstances. It is important to check your own circumstances carefully, as some of the changes affect different groups of people at different times. For more information on finances and money as a single parent you can check out our factsheets and our information resources

Child tax credit

You can claim child tax credit if you're responsible for a child under 16, or under 20 if they are in approved education or training. Child tax credit is made up of a number of elements - our factsheet on claiming benefits and tax credits outlines the different elements. You don't need to be working to get child tax credit, but the amount you receive will reduce if you earn over a certain threshold.

In July 2015 the government announced cuts to child tax credit. Some of these cuts will not take place for existing claimants but if you make a claim after April 2017 the rules will be different. 

You can check this year's tax credit rates here.

There are important proposed changes to the way the tax credits system will work from April 2017. 

From April 2017 there are changes to the number of children you can receive child tax credit for. If you’re a single parent and already have two or more children and get tax credits you won't be affected, unless you have another child.

If you currently have two or more children and have another baby after 6 April 2017, you will usually only be able to claim child tax credit for your new baby, or any other children born after 6 April 2017 in limited circumstances. More information is available here.

Working tax credits

If you work 16 hours a week or more, you can claim working tax credit. The amount you get depends on your individual circumstances. For more information on how working tax credit is calculated you can visit the website or see our factsheet Benefits and tax credits if you work 16 hours a week or more. You can check the tax credit rates for next year here

The government has made a change to the amount your income can go up or down before your tax credits are affected. Previously your income could change by £5,000 and this would be disregarded. Now your tax credits will be affected if your income rises or falls by £2,500 or more. See our factsheet Tax credits when your circumstances change for more information.

Employment and support allowance (ESA) - work related activity group

If you make a new claim for ESA after April 2017 and are placed in the work related activity group, the proposed changes mean you would not receive the work related activity premium of £29.05 a week. This amount is paid in addition to the basic amount of ESA (£73.10 a week). You will receive £73.10 ESA per week and no additional payment. Please note that if you are currently receiving ESA you won't be affected by the change and will carry on getting your current amount of ESA. For more information about ESA see our factsheet Benefits for ill health and disability.

The government is also proposing a requirement for some ESA claimants to sign on at the jobcentre once a week for the first 3 months of their claim. We are waiting for the details of which claimants will be affected and when this change will take effect.

Benefit cap

The benefit cap is a limit set by government on the maximum amount of income a household can receive in benefits and tax credits.

The government has reducing the maximum a family in London can receive in benefits from £26,000 per year (£500 per week) to £23,000 (£442 per week). Families who live outside London now have their benefits capped at £20,000 per year (£384 week). 

The benefit cap doesn't apply to all families and will depend on your circumstances. For more information on the benefit cap and who it affects you can visit our news page or use our interactive guide.

Housing benefit

From 1 April 2017, 18 to 21-year-olds who are claiming universal credit as a jobseeker are no longer be eligible for support with their housing costs. However single parents under 21 are not affected by this change and can claim support with housing costs.

The government is also planning to stop housing benefit payments to anyone who leaves the UK for more than one month. No date has been given yet for this change.

We do not yet have the dates that these changes will start to take effect.

Support for mortgage interest

If you are not working, or work less than 16 hours a week and are on a low income, you may be able to receive help towards your mortgage interest through income support, jobseekers allowance or employment and support allowance. 

Since April 2016 the time you have to wait before you can receive support for mortgage is 39 weeks.

From April 2018 support for mortgage interest payments will be paid as a loan. The loan will need to be repaid if you sell your home, or if you return to work and interest will be applied.

Universal Credit

Universal credit is replacing a number of existing benefits. For more information see our universal credit information pages.

From April 2016 universal credit work allowances was reduced to £4,764 a year for those without housing costs and £2,304 a year for those with housing costs. Find out more about work allowances here. From April 2017 the 'taper rate' for universal credit changed from 65p in the pound to 63p in the pound. Find out more about the taper rate here.

From April 2017 the child element of universal credit will be limited to two children for parents who have a third or any additional child on or after 6th April 2017 will not be eligible to receive an additional child element, while new claims made after April 2017 will not include the first child premium.

From April 2017 parents whose youngest child is aged 3 or older, including single parents, are expected to look for work if they claim universal credit as a jobseeker.

Benefit freeze for working age people

The government has frozen benefits for working age people for four years from April 2016.

This includes:

  • Income support
  • Jobseekers allowance
  • Employment and support allowance (work related activity group)
  • Child benefit
  • Housing benefit
  • Working tax credit
  • Child tax credit

Benefits which are not frozen and will increase by the Consumer Price Index annually are:

  • Maternity allowance
  • Statutory maternity pay
  • Statutory paternity pay
  • Statutory adoption pay
  • Statutory sick pay
  • Personal independence payment
  • Disability living allowance
  • Attendance allowance
  • Employment and support allowance (support group)

Free childcare

From September 2017, the government is providing working parents of three and four year olds with up to 30 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks a year. You will need to be employed 16 hours per week to qualify, and your earnings must be less than £100,000 per year if you are a single parent. See here for more information about your childcare options, including the 30 hours scheme.

Social housing

If you rent a council or housing association home in England, your rent is reduced by 1 per cent a year for four years. 

Housing benefit rates for council and housing association tenants will be set at the same maximum levels as housing benefit rates for tenants who rent from private landlords. If you are living in supported or sheltered housing an exemption will apply to you.

Living wage

A national living wage has been introduced for workers over 25. This is £7.50 per hour from April 2017. If you are under 25 you are not entitled to the national living wage. You are entitled to the national minimum wage instead. The national minimum wage is :

  • for workers aged 21 to 24 - £7.05 an hour from April 2017
  • The rate for 18 to 20 year olds - £5.60 an hour from April 2017
  • The rate for 16 to 17 year olds - rising to £4.05 an hour from April 207
  • For apprentices the rate is £3.50 per hour from April 2017 

Student maintenance loan

New students in England can apply for a maintenance loan instead of a maintenance grant. The new maintenance loan will be paid back in line with existing student finance rules. Currently you don't have to pay back any of your student loan until you are earning over £21,000 a year.

Most new single parent students will also be eligible for a special support loan as well as the maintenance loan. 

The government is also introducing maintenance loans for part time students. For more information see our online education information.

Personal tax allowance

From April 2017 the amount you can earn before you pay income tax is £11,000. 

Where next?

For more information on financial support as a single parent you can check out our factsheets and our information resources

If you would like to help us continue to campaign on these and other issues affecting single parents then please sign up to the campaigner e-list.

Want to discuss these changes with other single parents? Join Gingerbread for free and get access to our forums, newsletter and share support with over 60,000 other single parents.

Page updated 10th April 2017


skibum avatar
13 July 2015 22:32

Thank you so much for printing this article. Since the 2015 budget announcements, I've been searching the papers for news on SMI payments and had my head bitten off when I enquired at the job centre today. I became a single parent six months ago (when my daughter was eight months old) and, being a homeowner, am yet to receive any help towards housing costs. As you can imagine I'm in a desperate situation financially and really need to know where I stand in the future. It's such a relief to find a site that not only gives you any available information (I get nowhere with the benefit office), but does so without belittling you.

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