Each month, our advisers answer your questions. See what questions were asked in December, and what advice we gave.

Tax Credits

Child Tax Credits think my daughter’s dad lives with me because he uses my address as a ‘care of’ address. I sent them my tenancy agreement and a social services letter but they won’t accept it – what do I do?

Our advice

If you’ve claimed tax credits as a single person, HMRC can investigate your claim if it suspects you’re living with a partner. In order to decide if you’re living together as a couple, they should consider a range of factors, including whether you live in the same household, have a sexual relationship, have children, and your financial arrangements. They must look at your circumstances as a whole and not just one of these factors.

HMRC may ask you for information or evidence and can suspend payments if you don’t respond by the specified date. If you have evidence of where your daughter’s dad is living, you could provide this to HMRC.

If HMRC makes a decision that you’re not entitled to claim tax credits as a single person, you can ask it to look at the decision again by requesting a mandatory reconsideration. You can find information about how to do this on the Gov.uk website. If you’re unhappy with the outcome of this, you can then appeal against the decision.

Challenging a tax credit decision can be quite complicated and you may want to get some help with this. You can find how to contact your local Citizens Advice for help here or you can call our free helpline for more advice.

Finances and postgraduate study

Hi, I am a single mom with my little 3 year old daughter. I am on income support at the moment, and hopefully will start my masters education in January for 3 years. It’s a part-time course. I need to plan and see how my benefits, housing and tax credits will be when I start studying.

I am applying for a student loan (for a postgraduate loan – there is only one type of loan which is a one off payment of £10,000) and not maintenance loan, nor the childcare one. My course costs £7800. Please help me compare my benefits before and after, I don’t have any other income. Would you please advise me what is the best for me? I need to know numbers.

My second question is, if I didn’t start studying, what will happen to my benefits? Please know that I am on income support. Will I be asked in the Jobcentre to apply for work? And when? Thank you.

Our advice

According to the government website, the amount of postgraduate loan you should get is £10,609 for the whole course. The loan doesn’t affect your child tax credit. Part of the loan is taken into account for income support and housing benefit.  We’d need more information in order to work out how the loan will affect your benefits.

You also asked about claiming income support if you don’t study, and whether you have to look for work. You don’t have to look for work whilst claiming income support. However, you can’t continue to claim income support once your youngest child turns five. If you aren’t working at that point then you may need to claim a benefit called universal credit. It’s possible that you may need to claim Universal Credit before your daughter turns five as the Government plans to move people in receipt of tax credits and certain benefits over to Universal Credit between July 2019 and 2024. Universal Credit is gradually replacing some benefits like income support, tax credits and housing benefit.

Under the Universal Credit rules, single parents usually have to look for work when their youngest child turns three, although there are some exceptions. The rules on who has to claim Universal Credit and who has to look for work are complicated. You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to an adviser in more detail about your situation and get a calculation.

Complex contact arrangements

My baby is 7 weeks old and I split with his father when he was born due to ongoing issues with him borrowing money off me, failing to commit/move in, being unsupportive and in some ways mentally abusive to the point it was affecting my mental health.

He was around the first 10 days of his birth so I thought he was stepping up, but then was drinking one eve where he was supposed to look after our boy and then the mentally exhausting behaviour began again along with him still asking for money, cancelling visits due to illness/work. He’s seen him about 7 times in the last 5 weeks and is accusing me of making him jump through hoops when all I have asked is for him to confirm times for visits and what days he wants to come. He was annoyed at me for suggesting he say when he wants to come so has now suggested he just does weekends starting from 15th.

My question is what do I have to put up with? He’s in touch constantly with updates of how ill he is and asking for pictures of our son, but then he turns arsey and accusatory if he doesn’t like what I say so all contact tends to end up stressful. He’s manipulative and I’m worried about the effect on my mental health again. We’re not married. How many visits should I be expected to allow and for how long at a time?

Can I refuse for him to have him on his own? (I don’t trust him not to drink/smoke/bring him back in time because he’s made jokes about taking him and not giving him back). If so, how long can I refuse him to have him on his own and only give supervised contact? He lives with his parents and they smoke in the house so I have said he can’t take him there and all visits are at my house.

If he continues to cause issues, is there any circumstance in which I can refuse access for a period of time? He’s 41 and has paid me maintenance directly for the last 2 months although he owes me over £1000 in money he has borrowed previously.

Our advice

There are no rules about exactly how contact should happen as each family is different. It’s important to ensure that the arrangements are safe for you and your child.  Making a contact arrangement is an ongoing process and you will both need to adapt and make changes as the needs of your son change. Perhaps you could suggest shorter but more frequent periods of contact on set days initially and then review the arrangement after six months.

If you think it may not be safe for your son to be alone with dad, or you’re not happy with his home environment, you could consider arranging for him to see him at a contact centre. This is a place where parents can see their children with staff present to supervise contact visits. You can find information about child contact centres at the National Association of Child Contact Centres.

If you’re unable to agree arrangements for your child, either of you could apply to court for a child arrangements order. Usually before a court application, both parents have to separately attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to see if mediation is suitable to help resolve any disputes. There are some exceptions to this though, and it may be decided at the MIAM that mediation isn’t suitable. See our help when you can’t agree factsheet for more information. The Family Mediation Council  also has information about how to find a mediator.

If an application to court is made for a child arrangements order the court would make a decision based on the child’s best interests. Our getting legal help factsheet has information about getting legal advice and preparing a case for court.

You can get advice from National Domestic Violence Helpline on dealing with the emotional and financial abuse. Our factsheet, ’Looking after your emotional health’ also lists other sources of help.

If your child’s dad doesn’t keep to your arrangement for child maintenance or you think he is not paying the right amount, you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service. There is a one-off payment of £20 when you apply. They will get details of his income from HMRC, and he will be expected to pay a percentage of his income to you in child maintenance. The amount he has to pay depends on his income and whether he has any other children. You can find more information on applying the Child Maintenance Service on our website here.

Child support query

Hi, I currently pay CSA for my daughter which goes directly to my daughter mother. However, I was advised initially that I would need to contact you once a child arrangement order had been implemented. This is now the case, and in the course of the last few months, I cannot now access the CSA website and directs me to this page? I have a CSA account number and I just need guidance on what to do with the court order.

I was advised by the CSA group that the payments being made would reduce due to having my daughter more then 52 days out of every year, however they would need to see a copy of the court order. However, I don’t know if I use my existing account number? Create a new one? How to I log in? How do I add the documents to be reviewed? How do you then reduce the payments?

Our advice

Thank you for your question to the Gingerbread Ask an Adviser service.

Unfortunately we’re unable to advise you as Gingerbread provides advice and support for the parent who has their children living with them for the majority of the time or who has equal care of their child. However, our website has contact details for the Child Support Agency and information about a number of other organisations who can advise you.

One of our advisers has also responded to your email.

Universal Credit

I am in a Universal Credit area, but as I have three children, I am instead receiving Working Tax and Child Tax Credits. Are there any plans to change the system in the future so that I receive UC instead?

We are barely managing as we are and I am anxious that a change in what we are entitled to would badly affect our security. I’m self-employed and a private tenant and do not receive housing benefit.

Stories of families suffering and becoming homeless under UC are distressing me – the financial stress and insecurity is causing me to be anxious and fearful most days, and impacting my health.

Our advice

We’re sorry to hear about the concerns you have about Universal Credit and the impact this is having on your health. The Government plans to move everyone in receipt of tax credits (and certain other benefits) over to Universal Credit in the future. The current plans are that they will begin this process in July 2019 with a view to completion at the end of 2023 or during 2024. This process is referred to as ‘managed migration’.

The Government hasn’t yet set out the dates that individual claimants will be moved over to universal credit over the next few years. It has said that they will begin in July 2019 with small-scale testing to ensure that processes work well before the volume of managed migration increases. It has said that it intends to test the managed migration process for claimants on all benefits and in a range of circumstances, at each stage adjusting and amending its processes and journey according to how claimants respond.

How much Universal Credit you will be entitled to will depend on your circumstances. There are some complicated rules for self-employed people. The rules that will apply will depend on your circumstances including the ages of your children and how much you earn from your self-employment. You can contact our free helpline to speak to an adviser in more detail about your situation.

However, the rules have not yet been fully decided for those who will be moved to universal credit under ‘managed migration’. This means an adviser won’t be able to advise you fully on what you’ll be entitled to under universal credit until these rules are known, which should hopefully be within the next few months.

Child maintenance arrangements

Hi, my ex-partner has just left me. He has offered to pay slightly over the calculated child maintenance weekly payment – the reason he has done this is to avoid the childcare costs, however, this contribution would not even cover 50% of my childcare costs let alone the maintenance for my child.

My query is – can I take him to court to get him to pay the CMS payment and 50% of the childcare costs? Please advise, thank you.

Our advice

There’s no law that sets out which parent is responsible for providing or paying for child care costs. If you’re the main carer of your child, you may be able to get some help through welfare benefits depending on your circumstances. You can find more information if you’re looking for childcare or need help with the costs on our childcare pages where we also have an interactive guide you can use. If you’d like to talk through your options with one of our advisers, please call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925.

Your ex has a legal obligation to pay the child maintenance that would be calculated by the CMS. There’s nothing within child maintenance law that sets out what expenses child maintenance is intended to cover. This leaves it open to parents to decide whether it’s reasonable to pay additional contributions towards things such as childcare costs. As you and your ex disagree on this issue, you may want to try mediation as a means of trying to resolve your disagreement.  However, there is a charge for mediation and it’s a voluntary process so this would only be an option if you both agree to go.

It’s sometimes possible to apply to the court for extra costs for your child. You may wish to seek legal advice from a family law solicitor on what a court might be likely to decide, taking into account the details of your circumstances. Please see our factsheet on getting legal help for further information.