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

When your child turns 18

My daughter turns 18 in August and is due to start a paid apprenticeship in July. Does this mean that I lose my Child Benefit, Council Tax discount and Child Support payment? She will be attending college one day a week and the other days will be based at her employer’s place of work. Thank you.

Our advice

Child benefit for your daughter will stop once she begins her paid apprenticeship if it’s at least 24 hours a week as she’ll no longer be a qualifying young person for Child Benefit purposes. If the apprenticeship is less than 24 hours a week and her education ended after 31 May this year, Child Benefit might extend until 31 August but the rules aren’t clear on this.  You can find more information on our website about changes to benefits when your child leaves education.

If you have an informal child support arrangement with your daughter’s other parent, the date on which you stop receiving child maintenance will depend on the terms of your agreement. If you receive your child maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service, your child maintenance will stop at the same time as your child benefit.

Your daughter will be disregarded for the purposes of the Single Person Discount on your council tax before she turns 18. Once she is 18, she’ll continue to be disregarded providing she is an apprentice training for a qualification accredited by an approved authority and not earning more than £195 per week.

Although some of your benefits will stop when your daughter starts her apprenticeship, you may become entitled to other benefits. You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 for a full benefit check.

Universal Credit and mental health

Dear Gingerbread,

Can I ask you a question on behalf of a single mother who recently got separated from her husband of ten years? There are two young children, a girl aged 7 and a boy of 9. She is claiming Universal Credit, including the housing element and childcare.

Unfortunately the mother has been struggling with anxiety and depression for some time and is doing her very best to cope in a very hard situation. She has been pushing herself to work 16 hours a week at minimum wage, but her psychiatrist strongly advises her not to work, or at least to work for fewer hours. The problem is that were she to do so, she is afraid her childcare claim may stop. This would mean she would be unable to pay for the childcare. Having to have the kids at home instead for this time would be more challenging for her than the actual work.

Ideally, she would like to be able to decrease her working hours to 8-10 hours a week. She feels she would be able to manage that, as long as she’d still be able to get childcare. The psychiatrist would be happy to provide a letter explaining the necessity of decreased hours.

My understanding is that there should be no problem in doing so, decreasing her hours in the circumstances would not affect her ability to claim childcare (although she’ll be paying more on childcare than she’s earning…), and the Job Centre wouldn’t chase her to work more, given her situation.

Please could you confirm that this is that correct, and would you be able to advise please what the best course of action is?

Thank you very much!

Our advice

If she does paid work, she should be able to claim some help with her childcare costs through Universal Credit. There are no minimum hours that someone has to work to qualify. The childcare charges must be to enable her to do paid work, so she can get help with the cost of the childcare she needs to use whilst at work or travelling to and from work. You can find more information about help with childcare costs from Universal Credit on our website.

Under the current rules, if someone earns at least £338 a month, they’re not expected to be searching or be available for more work. They may still be expected to take part in ‘work-focused interviews’ and ‘work preparation’ if they’re earning more than £338 a month but less than their ‘individual earnings threshold’. The amount of this threshold is the national minimum wage multiplied by the number of hours they’re expected to work each week. The number of hours depends on an individual’s circumstances including their childcare responsibilities and any physical or mental health problems they have. Read more information about ‘work-focused interviews’ and ‘work preparation’ on the Revenue Benefits website.

If she changes her hours so she earns less than £338 per month, she could be expected to look or be available for more work. However, the Jobcentre must take into account individual circumstances like childcare responsibilities and any physical or mental health problems they have. Getting a supporting letter from a health professional explaining the necessity of decreased hours could be helpful if she needs to explain to the Jobcentre why she’s unable to work more hours.

Some people can receive a sanction (a reduction in Universal Credit for a period) if they leave work or reduce their hours/pay below a certain level (currently under £338 per month), unless they can show ‘good reason’. Good reason isn’t defined in the rules but can include, in some cases, ill health. Again, a supporting letter from a health professional explaining why she needs to reduce her hours of work could be helpful.

The rules on sanctions and in work requirements are complex and you may want to contact our helpline for further advice.

If she would also like any information about sources of emotional support, she may also find it helpful to read this information on our website.

Universal Credit during maternity leave

Hi there. I’m a single mum and have a 6 week-old baby. I applied for Universal Credit as I’m breastfeeding and can’t really work – not that it is really possible with a 6 week-old baby.

Unfortunately I was self-employed before giving birth and worked incredibly hard to have my own home where I paid mortgage, but I’ve found myself in a horrible situation that because of these circumstances. I can’t get anything from Universal Credit, and therefore I can’t receive any Council Tax support either.

I am in receipt of statuary maternity allowance at £148 a week – therefore, I’ve been told those are my earnings, and my UC amount would be less than that, therefore they can’t give me anything. I have no idea where to go and where to find any help. I don’t know if I can get any help with childcare either. I would really appreciate your advice. Massive thanks.

Our advice

The amount of Universal Credit you’re entitled to is dependent on factors such as your income, the savings you have, housing costs and childcare costs.

We would need more information about your situation to tell if you should be entitled to Universal Credit.

It’s not clear if you want help with childcare whilst you’re on maternity, or when you start working again. Universal Credit can sometimes help towards certain types of childcare costs. This usually only applies if you’re working, but in some cases, you can get this help when claiming Maternity Allowance or if you have a firm offer of employment in the following assessment period. You can find more information about childcare on our information pages.

The rules about Universal Credit and childcare costs are quite complex, so we suggest you call our helpline for further advice.

You also mentioned problems with Council Tax support. Some local authorities will still give Council Tax support when you don’t have any Universal Credit, depending on your circumstances. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will have more information about your Council’s policy and method of calculation.

Contact following separation

I am planning to leave the controlling father of our young teenage children. I will move to where my family live so that I will have emotional support. It is also a much cheaper area to live and I can afford to live independently (everything is in his name) and care for the children there but not where I am now.

I want my children to live with me as I am the main carer. I can’t talk to the children’s father as he is unwilling to negotiate and this has been the case all along. I have tried to leave twice before but have not managed to do this due to health and then financial issues.

We have not been a couple for years. We will be able to leave but when I say we are staying away, I don’t think he will accept this and, if he has contact, will try to keep our children and stop them returning to me. Our children love both of us and I am happy to arrange contact but I am worried he will force them to stay with him. Is there anything I can do to ensure they are allowed to attend their new school and not be forced to move back because he wants it?

Our advice

In the first instance, it’s usually advisable for parents to reach an agreement before any move happens. If you can’t reach an agreement about the move, you may find it helpful to read our factsheet, ’Help when you can’t agree’ which explains the different options available to help you negotiate and resolve any disputes. Sometimes, mediation won’t be suitable where there is abusive/controlling behaviour. You may also find our factsheet ’Making arrangements for your children helpful.

If you’re married or your children’s dad is on the birth certificate registered on or after 1 December 2003, he will have parental responsibility. Having parental responsibility for a child means someone has the right to be involved in making decisions about their care and upbringing. Important decisions in a child’s life must be agreed with anyone else who has parental responsibility.

If you can’t agree on where your children live, you can apply to the court for a specific issue order to allow your children to make the move. Alternatively, your ex-partner could apply to the courts for a prohibited steps order to try and stop the move going ahead.

When making a decision about any aspect of a children’s upbringing, their welfare is the most important factor the court will consider. The court would look at the reasons for the move and also the impact of the move on contact arrangements with dad. For further information about these issues you can read the Rights of Women guide Children and the law: when parents separate

Gingerbread can’t give legal advice, but you can find organisations that can in our factsheet, ’Getting legal help’.