Each month, our advisers answer your questions. See what questions were asked in July, and what advice we gave. As always, this advice was correct at the time it was given.

Unpaid Child Maintenance

My children’s partner has stopped paying Child Maintenance with no reason or notice. We don’t speak as he has let the two boys down on so many occasions by not turning up etc. I called Child Maintenance yesterday about this and they sent me a notification last night to say they’d get back to me in 12 weeks. Seriously, how can this be ok? I’m a single parent of two boys aged 3 and 1 trying to pay all the bills – their Dad pays £30 a week and for over two years has refused to declare his income to Child Maintenance which they seem ok with. In the first year I started the tribunal process but my children’s Dad said I’d end up with less if he lost everything to the tax man. How can I get Child Maintenance to resolve non payment quicker and how can I help demonstrate this isn’t a ‘service’ or indeed fit for purpose for caring parents allowed and expected to wait 3 months for a ‘service’ to get back to them when it comes to something so serious as getting essential payments to put towards their children’s upbringing? Thank you in advance

Our advice

It’s likely that you were told by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) they would get back to you in 12 weeks because they were running a reduced service for a number of months due to Covid-19. The CMS is part of the Department of Work and Pensions and a number of staff from the CMS were moved to other departments to help cope with the significant increase in benefit claims due to Coronavirus. This meant that they were unable to investigate change of circumstances claims made by paying parents, and in many cases when they were told that a paying parent was no longer in employment, the receiving parent would see their maintenance payments decrease automatically. Ultimately this meant that single parents reliant on child maintenance were at significant disadvantage while the reduced service was in place.

However, Gingerbread is aware that from the end of July the CMS has been able to run an almost full service. We were told that when service resumed one of the main priorities of the CMS would be to resolve non-payment issues that arose over the lockdown period – particularly where parents deliberately took advantage of the fact that it was unable to investigate changes of circumstances while operating at a reduced level. It may well be that the CMS is now able to investigate your own case and potentially take action in seeking arrears if appropriate. I would firstly recommend getting back in touch with the CMS and ask them directly if and when they will be undertaking this enforcement work. The CMS helpline is now open from 9.30am – 3.30pm Monday to Friday.

Hopefully you will be able to speak to someone a lot sooner than the 12 weeks that you have been quoted but if not we would recommend you make a formal complaint to the CMS using their complaints procedure or consult your MP about the delays you have experienced in getting this resolved.

Gingerbread believes that child maintenance is one of the most significant issues currently affecting single parents which is why it’s  the focus of our most recent campaign ‘Maintenance Matters’. One of the key aims of this campaign is to cause change in the way that maintenance arrears are enforced and collected by the CMS, and we are asking for zero tolerance on non-payment. You can find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved here.

Finances and my daughter’s university

I work 16 hours per week and receive Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits that are all going to end at the end of August due to my daughter going to university. I am 59 years old and single and just my wage alone will not support me. I am trying to get more hours but in the present climate this is proving very difficult. Will I be able to get Universal Credit as I am on a low income and how and when do I have to apply?

Our advice

You may still receive some working tax credit if you’ll turn 60 before the end of August, or you qualify for a disabled worker element, or you’re able to increase you working hours to 30 or more a week by the end of August. Whether you’ll be entitled will depend on your income in the current and previous tax year.

Your housing benefit won’t necessarily end. Although your daughter will no longer be included in your claim, you may still be entitled to some housing benefit, especially as the loss of or reduction in your tax credits will mean there’s less income to be taken into account in the housing benefit calculation.

Alternatively, you may be able to claim universal credit. This will depend on your circumstances, including how much you earn and how much your rent is. If you make a claim for universal credit, your housing benefit claim will end unless you are in temporary accommodation. If you’re still entitled to some working tax credit, this will also end if you claim universal credit. If you claim universal credit it’s not possible to return to housing benefit or working tax credit. Therefore, before deciding whether to claim Universal Credit or not, we’d strongly advise you to call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 for a benefit calculation to check whether you would be better off staying on housing benefit (and working tax credit if you’ll still qualify) or making a claim for universal credit.  Before calling please ensure you have to hand details of your earnings in the current and previous tax year and how much your rent is.

Financial difficulty

I’ve no money for food and electric and nowhere to turn. I don’t know what to do it’s affecting my mental health.

Our advice

It sounds like you’re having a very difficult time at the moment. There is some emergency financial help available which you might find useful.

 

Due to the impact of Covid-19, councils have been given extra funding for emergency support. If you contact your local council they may have a local welfare assistance scheme offering emergency financial help to residents. You can search here If you’re unsure how to contact your local council.

 

You may also be able to get help from a food bank. Some food banks need a referral from an agency such as your local council or Citizen’s Advice. You can find your nearest Citizen’s Advice here. You can contact them and ask for a referral to your local food bank.

 

Energy suppliers are offering help to customers who are struggling financially. This applies to both credit meter and prepaid customers and includes options such as payment breaks, reduced payments and extra time to pay. You haven’t mentioned which utility companies you are with, but you can find a guide to the help provided by each company here. Many water companies are also offering support, so contact your water provider to see what help they can give you.

 

We’d need more information to be able to advise you more fully. If you contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 you can talk to one of our advisers who will check that you’re receiving all the financial help you’re entitled to.

Financial difficulties can be very stressful and you might find it useful to contact Mind which provides specialist help and support to people with mental health problems.

Payments from my ex-husband

My case is currently 8 years old with 5 figure arrears. My ex-husband job hops and goes self and moves house about every 6 months to avoid paying. There have been short periods of payments through DEOs and enforcement. Last time I spoke to them in around February I had an active DEO awaiting the first payment. Will they have collected payment through him being furloughed. What can I actually do to take this further? This is a joke. They give him weeks of notice to any action they will take. They no longer call him because he’s abusive.

Our advice

I’m sorry to hear about the problems you’ve had with enforcement of child maintenance. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) were running a reduced service for a number of months due to Covid-19, and made a statement that whilst deduction from earnings orders (DEOs) would be pursued where possible, they would not pursue businesses that were unable to implement them. The CMS said it would revert to standard practices for managing DEOs as soon as possible. Gingerbread has been advised that the CMS returned to an almost full service as of the end of July and they may now be in a position to resume enforcing payment of the arrears owed to you. We would recommend contacting the CMS to find out what action they now plan to take.

If you are unhappy with the response you receive from the CMS, you can make a complaint about their failure to enforce payment of the arrears. You can find details of how to make a complaint here. You could also raise the matter with your Member of Parliament (MP) and ask for their support in making your complaint. You can find out how to contact your local MP here.

Gingerbread’s campaign, Maintenance Matters, calls for zero tolerance on non-payment of child maintenance arrears and prompt enforcement by the CMS. You can find out more information about the campaign and how you can take part here.

Single parents in my area

Hi, I’m new to Gingerbread, am looking to connect with other single parents in my area, just wondering if there are any groups here! I’m in Basingstoke Hampshire.

Our advice

We have local Gingerbread groups run by single parent volunteers throughout England and Wales and they’re a great place for single parents to meet and support each. You can find out more information about them and search for a group in your area here. You can also connect with other single parents in our online forum.

Landlords and children

I am having huge issues in finding a one bedroom flat in Beckenham area where the landlord is willing to accept children, my daughter is 4 and she will start reception at a local school so I need stay in the area. Any advice is much appreciated.

Our advice

I’m sorry to hear about the problems you’re experiencing with finding accommodation. It can be difficult to find affordable private rented accommodation in many areas, particularly if you’re a single parent.

If you haven’t already done so, you can contact letting agents in your area. Many private landlords use agents to rent out their properties. The agents act on behalf of the landlord when offering viewings and tenancies.

You can also contact your local council as they may have a list of local private landlords who rent to those with children or to tenants claiming benefit.

Shelter, the housing advice charity, has more information on their website about how to find a private rented home. You can also find information about housing options for single parents and help to pay your rent here.

If your employer refuses to keep you on furlough you may be able to take annual leave or some kind of special leave, depending on your contract and the policies of your employer. Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety at work and cannot insist that you bring your children with you.

You may need to seek specialist employment law advice if your employer continues to insist that you return to work and bring your children with you. Working Families is a charity which offers free legal advice to parents and carers on their rights at work. You can contact them by completing their online advice form or by calling their free helpline on 0300 012 0312.

Finance for a new single parent

I spoke to an advisor a few weeks back when I just found out about my pregnancy. I found him very helpful and I have just had my 12 week scan and just want to clarify the information previously provided. I was advised that once the baby is born I can make a apply for benefits and I would be entitled too per calendar month Child benefit at £91, statutory maternity pay at £655, total universal credit at £1316 and this would include a housing benefit element of maximum at £900 as I would be able to get a two bedroom property. I just want to clarify that this information is correct so I can fully understand my financial situation. I work full time and earn £20,500 before tax and I have been employed by my current employer since October. Thank you for your help

Our advice

We would need more information from you to be able to calculate your benefit entitlement. If you contact our free helpline you can speak to one of our specialist advisers who will be able to carry out a full calculation for you.

Help with the cost of schools

I am a single mum with low income. I live in southeast London. My son got an admission into a private secondary school in kent for year 7. The bursary and my little income can only cover the tuition fees. I have been looking for where to get a grant that can cover the travel cost, uniform and other learning equipment. I will need advice on where I can apply for such grant. Thank you

Our advice

It may be worth talking to the school to see if they have any additional funding available to help with travel, uniforms and equipment. You could also search on the Educational Grants forum here  and use the Turn2us grants search to look for any local or national charities that you may be able to apply to for a grant.

If you would like to check your benefit entitlement you can ring our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to an adviser for a calculation.