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Changes to benefits when your child turns 16

Turning 16 usually brings many changes for young people and their families. Your child may decide to leave home or school or continue to study or start working – and this will affect the benefits and tax credits you can claim. 

At some point between your child’s 16th and 20th birthdays, the benefits system will start to treat them as an independent adult. This is usually connected to them leaving school. When this happens, the benefits you get for them will stop. This may have a knock-on effect on the support you can get for yourself and your home.

The important thing to know is that you have to let the various offices know about things changing. 

This page guides you through how your benefits might change after your child turns 16, depending on whether your child is staying in approved education or training or leaving, for example to go to university or get a job. 

If your child is disabled, Contact has helpful benefits guidance for families with disabled children

You can also make sure you’re not losing out on benefits by using our benefits calculator. And if you’d like our help in understanding what you’re entitled to, talk to us

Advice from Jo

Jo shares her experience of being a single mum and what she’s learned through her son Patrick leaving school.

My child is staying in education or training

If your child is staying in approved education or training for more than 12 hours each week, your benefits won’t be affected. Approved education and training includes things like:

  • NVQs up to level 3
  • GCSEs
  • A-levels or similar
  • BTEC National Diplomas, National Certificates or a 1st Diploma
  • Traineeships in England or Wales
  • Foundation apprenticeships in Wales

Gov.uk has more information about approved education and benefits.

As long as your child has registered on the course before they turn 19, your benefits related to them can continue until their 20th birthday. They can be working while they’re studying.

You must let the various benefits offices know about what your child is doing.

Child benefit

Child Benefit will stop on the last day of August after your child’s 16th birthday, unless you tell the Child Benefit office that they’re staying in approved education or training.

If you have a Government Gateway account you can do this online (click on the change that applies to you and you’ll be taken to an online form) or by calling 0300 200 3100. Anyone can set up a Government Gateway account for free – this allows you to access lots of government services online.

You should get a letter or email from the Child Benefit office during the school year when your child turns 16. This will ask what they plan to do. If you don’t get the email or letter, contact Child Benefit.

Child Tax Credit

Child Tax Credit also stops on the last day of August after your child’s 16th birthday, unless you tell HMRC that they’re continuing in approved education or training

You also need to update the tax credit office on what your child is doing when they turn 18 or 19. This is so your Child Tax Credit can continue if they’re staying in approved education or training.

Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit & Council Tax Reduction

All this support should stay the same, as long as you’re still getting Child Benefit. But to prevent problems, it’s a good idea to let Universal Credit and the council’s Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction department know that your child is staying in education or training.

Child maintenance

Your child maintenance payments shouldn’t change when your child turns 16. By law, the child’s other parent has to pay maintenance if your child is under 20 and in approved education or training. You can still claim child maintenance from now, even if you haven’t received anything in the past. See our advice on the Child Maintenance Service.

My child is leaving education or training  

When your child leaves approved education or training – whether that’s to work or go university (higher education), they’re no longer seen as your dependent. This will change the benefits you can get – you can check how this will affect you specifically using our benefits calculator.

Here’s a summary of how key benefits are likely to change.

Universal Credit

When your child leaves approved education or training, your Universal Credit will drop or potentially even stop. 

This is because you no longer qualify for the child element of Universal Credit related to them. The housing element of Universal Credit may also be affected if your child leaves home. And if you’re getting a work allowance through Universal Credit because you’re responsible for a child, this will also be affected.

You’ll need to tell Universal Credit about your child leaving education or training. You can do this through your online account or by calling them on 0800 328 5644. If you don’t tell them about this change, your benefits may be overpaid and they’ll ask for the money back.

You can get advice on claiming Universal Credit from Citizens Advice and by talking to us. See our page about Universal Credit.

Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit

You must tell the Child Benefit Office and the Tax Credit Office when your child goes to university or starts work or claims benefits themselves. If you don’t tell them your child is leaving approved education or training, your benefits might be overpaid. HMRC will claim the overpaid money back from you.

Child Benefit usually stops when your child leaves education or training. This happens on the last day of August, November, February or May after the education finishes.

Child Tax Credit usually stops on the last day of August after your child’s 16th birthday, or when they leave education or training if this happens later.

Both Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit will stop if your child starts:

  • Working 24 or more hours a week
  • Claiming benefits such as Universal Credit themselves 

These benefits can be extended for 20 weeks if your child registers with the local careers office or signs up for the armed forces. You have to apply for this extension within 3 months of them finishing their education.

Working Tax Credit

When your child leaves approved education or training, your Working Tax Credit will stop unless you’re working 30 or more hours each week. This is a change from the 16 hours a week requirement when you have a child. If you’re disabled, you only need to be working 16 hours a week to qualify for Working Tax Credit, even when your child leaves education.

Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are part of the same system, so you just need to let HMRC know about your child’s plans once.

Housing Benefits

If you’re claiming Housing Benefit, you must also let your local council know when your child leaves approved education or training. When your child no longer counts as your dependent, you may get less support for your housing costs.  

If your child is 18 or older, living with you and working, they may be expected to contribute towards your rent. Your Housing Benefit will be reduced in relation to their earnings.

Shelter has more information on how your Housing Benefit may be affected.

Council Tax

As long as your child is living with you as a full-time student (at any level), they’ll be ignored for the purposes of Council Tax. If your child is still living with you and not studying, you’ll need to let your local council know. This could mean your Council Tax will go up.

Child maintenance

How your child maintenance is affected when your child leaves approved education or training depends on the arrangement you have with the other parent.

If you’re getting maintenance payments for them through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), you’ll no longer be entitled to this. You need to let the CMS know about this change. Payments for any maintenance owed for before your child leaves school should continue, even after your child is no longer eligible. See our page about using the Child Maintenance Service.

If you have a court order for maintenance, this could continue after your child has left school and beyond – depending on the terms of the order. In limited circumstances, it can be possible to arrange child maintenance for university students through the courts. 

If you and your child’s other parent have a voluntary agreement about maintenance (called a family-based arrangement), you may decide together that maintenance should continue.

Date last updated: 24 April 2024

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