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Home Advice and information Benefits, tax credits and managing money
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Benefits, tax credits and managing money

Close-up of a calculatorMoney is a vital part of family life. For single dads, it can be tough to know exactly what money you are entitled to and sometimes managing on one income can stretch your finances beyond their means.

Understanding your situation and having all the facts about what support is available can make managing your money easier and less stressful.

Understanding your entitlement to benefits and tax credits

Benefits and tax credits exist to help people get the financial support they need. As a single parent, it’s important you and your family are able to access all the money you’re entitled to.

If you’re unsure what financial support is available to you, get a free, full benefits check from the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline by calling 0808 802 0925. Before calling, gather any information on benefits and tax credits you already receive and details of your wages if you are working. If you’re not working, the helpline adviser can look at what benefits you might get if you started a job, based on you knowing how many hours you would work and what you would earn.

Benefits and tax credits can be complex, as they are based entirely on a person’s specific situation. It can be tempting to compare your entitlements to those of friends and family, and frustrating to find out they receive different levels of support to you. However, try to remember that every family is unique and the benefits and tax credits they’re entitled to can differ wildly. What’s important is claiming what is available to you and your children.

For more information on benefits and tax credits, click the link that best suits your circumstances:

If you already claim benefits and tax credits

If you already claim tax credits, you must tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) straight away when your circumstances change. This includes when you separate from a partner, if your partner dies or if your child comes to live with you. Click here for more information on how tax credits are affected when your circumstances change.

If you claim benefits such as housing benefit or help with your council tax, tell your local council straight away if your circumstances change. If you become a single parent and your child lives with you all or most of the time, you may be entitled to more financial help.

If you are unemployed and claiming jobseeker’s allowance, you may be able to get income support instead if your youngest child is under the age of five. To get income support you must be your child’s main carer. You are not expected to look for work while claiming income support. You cannot claim both income support and jobseeker’s allowance at the same time. For more information on claiming income support see our factsheet.

Problems claiming benefits

Usually, you can only claim benefits as a single parent if you are receiving child benefit for your children. Child benefit is paid to the main carer of children, so you can only claim it if your child lives with you most of the time. If your child spends some time at your home but sleeps over most nights at their other parent’s home you are unlikely to be able to claim child benefit. Child benefit is paid by HMRC.

If you are getting child benefit but have been refused other benefits or are not sure what else to claim call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for a full benefits check on 0808 802 0925.

Can I get child benefit?

Child benefit is often paid to the mother when children are born, but if your child lives with you most of the time you may be able to claim instead. The quickest way to transfer child benefit is if both for both parents to agree to the change. If the mother agrees to the transfer she should call HMRC to explain the change in circumstances and end her child benefit claim. You can then make a new claim for child benefit. The child benefit helpline number is 0300 200 3100.
If your child’s other parent does not agree to give up child benefit you can still contact HMRC to make a claim if you are the main carer of your child. If child benefit is already being paid to the other parent HMRC call this a rival claim. When a rival claim is received HMRC must contact the parent who is currently getting child benefit to ask if there has been a change in circumstances. If the parent receiving child benefit does not agree that you are now the main carer of the child HMRC will make a decision. When deciding who provides the main care for a child, HMRC looks at how many nights your child sleeps at each parent’s home and who organises day to day care such as taking the child to school, arranging medical appointments and buying clothes.

It can take several weeks to resolve a rival claim. Without child benefit, it is unlikely you will be able to claim other benefits as a single parent such as tax credits, extra housing benefit or free school meals.

What can I do if child benefit is delayed?

If your child benefit claim is delayed you can complain to HMRC and if you are not happy with their response you can take your complaint to an independent adjudicator or ombudsman. A child benefit delay complaint pack is available free from the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline. This includes an explanation of the complaints process and a sample letter. Call 0808 802 0925.
You may also wish to make a complaint to your local MP and ask them to raise the matter with the government minister responsible for HMRC. Explain the impact the delay is having on you.

If you are struggling to contact HMRC you could also visit your local Citizens Advice bureau and ask them to call for you.

Parents who have recently returned to the UK or who are not UK nationals

If you have recently come to the UK from abroad you should seek specialist advice before claiming any benefits. If you are applying for a UK visa or residency, you may not have the right to access public funds and doing so may harm any application you are making to the Home Office.

If you have come to the UK from abroad, including from within the European Union or if you are a returning UK citizen, the information on these pages may not apply to you. Contact the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for advice on 0808 802 0925.

Managing your finances

Looking after your family on one income can bring with it a lot of financial worries and you may feel swamped, anxious or embarrassed. In some situations, you may find yourself in debt.
Many single parents find their money problems are the result of circumstances beyond their control, such as unexpected events, a drop in income or separating from a partner. It’s normal to feel frustrated by this sudden change, particularly if you’re used to being on top of your finances.

A free financial health check could help you to take charge and make the most of your money. It includes impartial advice on borrowing, saving and planning for the future.

Budgeting may also help. The Money Advice Service’s budget planner helps you list what money you have coming in and what bills you have to pay. It adds up the amounts and does the maths for you. The information you enter is confidential and you can save, re-visit and update your budget as you wish.

If you’re struggling to keep control of your money, make sure you get some support. Call the Single Parent Helpline on 0808 802 0925 or use the links below to get information and advice on your situation.

Advice for dealing with debts
How to get financial help in an emergency
Making ends meet 
Top tips for budgeting and managing your money
Dealing with money and property after the death of your partner

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