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

Finding financial support

Hi, I was homeless for four and a half years. I was labelled ‘intentionally homeless’ so we sofa-surfed. I finally got a private property as I was working part-time. My rent is £1150 which now I am struggling with as I no longer work – I use mine and my children’s benefits to make up the difference which leaves us with £400 for the whole month for food, gas and electric. I am finding this difficult. We’re always running out of something (food or gas etc.) way before our Universal Credit is due.

I’m at my wits’ end and don’t know what to do. In 2016, I went to prison due to our housing situation. I am trying to provide the best home for my 15 year old and my two year old. I am studying and really need help. Please advise me what I can do?

Our advice

It can be hard to manage when rents are high, and it sounds like you’ve had a particularly difficult time.

If you’re receiving housing benefit or Universal Credit but you’re still struggling to pay the rent, you can apply for a discretionary housing payment. Your local council may award you this payment to help you meet the shortfall in your rent.

We’d need more information to work out if you’re entitled to any other benefit help. You might find it useful to call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to one of our advisers for a full benefit check. You can also find information on our website about help in making ends meet and where to find financial help in an emergency.

Issues with child maintenance

My daughter is 17 years old and in full-time education. I have been separated from her father for over 14 years. He’s never been good at sharing parental responsibility in anyway – either support or financially.

It’s been over six months since he last paid child maintenance, which has left me in a mess money-wise and mentally. It’s been and still is such a struggle – I’m not sure how I’ve coped. My daughter never asks for anything but has made me aware of how desperate she is for new clothes. Is there any grant I could apply for, or my daughter maybe could apply to help?

I feel a failure lately and struggling to understand why the Child Maintenance Service lets the absent parent miss as many payments as they do. I was told it’ll be the 29th of May when I’ll finally receive money from my daughter’s dad when I rang them in October. Any advice would be great. Thanks.

Our advice

The Turn2us website has a search facility to find grants and funds you can apply to, depending on your individual situation.

If you’re getting certain benefits, you might be able to get an interest free budgeting loan for essentials like clothing. You can find more information on the Gov.uk website. You can’t get a budgeting loan if you get Universal Credit, but can apply for a budgeting advance instead. You can find more information on the Citizens Advice website. Our factsheet on making ends meet also has information you might find helpful.

If you don’t receive the child maintenance payment you’re expecting next month, you  can call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to one of our advisers about  the responsibilities of the Child Maintenance Service and what you can do if it’s not taking all reasonable action to ensure your child maintenance is paid. You can also find information about enforcing child maintenance payment on our website.

Gingerbread strongly believes that, even though parents may live apart, their shared responsibilities towards their children continue. We want to see children in separated families benefit from effective child support – regular payments, in full and on time. You can find information about our Maintenance Matters campaign on our website.

Additional support

I have been offered a job for 25 hours a week. What other help do I get?

Our advice

Your entitlement to benefits while working 25 hours as a single parent will depend on your situation and what benefits, if any, you’re currently receiving. If you’re starting work and have been receiving income support, jobseekers allowance or employment support allowance and child tax credit you’ll be entitled to claim working tax credit, including help with registered childcare costs. If you’re already getting child tax credit, you just need to let the tax credit helpline know that you’ll be starting work so they can assess and start to pay your working tax credit.

If you get housing benefit or help with mortgage interest payments, you could continue to get the same amount for four weeks after you start work. You qualify for this if you’ll be starting a job of 16 hours a week or more and you’ve been claiming jobseekers allowance, employment and support allowance, or income support continuously for 26 weeks or more. After four weeks, you may continue to receive housing benefit, depending on your earnings and childcare costs.

If you’re receiving Universal Credit, the amount you receive will change depending on your earnings, housing costs and if you have any childcare costs.

We would need more information to do a calculation and advise you on your situation. You can call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 if you’d like to talk through your situation in more detail with one of our advisers.

Apprenticeships and benefits

I will be starting a one-year PGDE course in August, and currently claim tax credits. I will have no income during this year other than my bursary and loan if approved.

I live in a two-bedroom flat, rented from my local authority, with my two sons. My eldest is 19 and is an apprentice, earning a wage while he attends college, and I have been told I have lost my single person’s council tax because of his earnings. My youngest is 16 and will still be in school full-time while I complete my PGDE.

I have been told that it is likely that my son’s wage will be used to decide if I am entitled to housing benefit or not. Given that he is earning a good wage, I think it’s likely that they will say he is liable to pay the full rent. Is there any way around this? He is still living at home because he can’t afford his own place, so why should he be expected to pay the rent when I am the sole tenant? Is there anything I can do to avoid this happening?

It is so unfair, I have always worked and paid full rent, studying for a degree part-time so I don’t have to claim housing benefit, and now in the final year of trying to get myself a career that will get me off benefits, I’m told I can’t even claim for one year! So frustrated, any advice would be appreciated.

Our advice

It sounds as if you don’t get housing benefit (HB) currently.  Apart from certain groups such as those in temporary council accommodation and those getting a severe disability premium, Universal Credit (UC) has replaced housing benefit for new claims for help with rent. If you claim UC, you’d have to come off tax credit and you wouldn’t be able to re-claim this in the future.

It’s important to take advice before deciding whether to claim UC to see if you come into one of the exceptional groups that can still claim HB or, if not, whether you would be better off continuing to claim tax credits only.

Student income doesn’t usually affect tax credits. However, if you claim UC, your student loan and bursary will affect how much you can get.

The housing element of Universal Credit is sometimes reduced if there is another non-dependant adult living with you. These deductions are called housing costs contributions. If applied this means a deduction of £73.89 per month if there is only one non-dependant. For some claimants and non-dependants, no deduction is made from UC. For example, no deduction is made for any non-dependant who is under 21 years old.

You can find information about the different types of council tax discount on the Citizens Advice website. Where only full-time students occupy the household, there’s usually a council tax exemption. It doesn’t seem as if this will apply to you because of your adult son, but you may be able to get the single person’s 25% discount as he is an apprentice. You may also be entitled to council tax reduction, which usually depends on things like income and capital. If you can’t get a council tax reduction and you can’t have your son ignored for the 25% discount, check with the council whether the second adult rebate might apply.

You can call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to one of our advisers about your benefits and council tax.

Moving out of rented housing

I’m a single mother of two children. I was told that I have to move out as landlord want to sell this house. I don’t know what can I do? Maybe can you help me please? Thank you.

Our advice

Your landlord must follow the correct legal process if they want you to leave the property. The procedure they have to follow will depend on the type of tenancy you have. Shelter has more information about the type and length of notice your landlord must give. You can contact Shelter on 0808 800 4444 for specialist advice if you think your landlord is not following the correct procedure.

If you have to leave your home, you may want to look for other privately rented accommodation. You can find information on our website about renting and getting help to pay the rent.

It can sometimes be difficult finding somewhere to rent. If you’re unable to find somewhere and you’re threatened with homelessness, you can get help from the Council. The Council must assess the situation and give you a personal housing plan which aims to help you keep your home or find you somewhere else to live. Shelter has more information about how to ask the Council for help and what help they can offer.

Financial support for part-time students

Hi, I am looking for some help with finding out what financial support is available to me as a part-time OU student. I am a single mum of three children and work part-time. Thank you.

Our advice

There isn’t the same financial help available through Student Finance England for Open University students as for other students. Maintenance loans have been introduced for part-time OU students, but only if the reason you are distance learning is because of a disability. It may be useful to look at the Open University website which has information about possible bursaries.

You may be entitled to benefits while you study, but this will depend on your circumstances and can be complicated for Open University students. We would need more information to advise you on this. You can call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 if you’d like to talk through your situation in more detail with one of our advisers.