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

School pupil premium

Hello, I receive working tax credit as well as child tax credit but only earn £14,000, the cut off for school pupil premium is £16,000 but I am still not entitled to it. My daughter is in senior school now and I’m completely on my own to pay for trips etc., I cannot afford the big trips, not that she’ll go on all but I don’t understand this system. Could you help please?

Our advice

Schools get pupil premium funding based on the number of pupils they have from eligible groups. It’s up to school leaders to decide how to spend this funding and they do this in a variety of ways. You can find more information about pupil premium funding here. Your daughter’s school should be able to let you know how they have decided to spend their funding. You could also ask them if the school has any grants or bursaries to help with school trips.

Turn2us is a charity which can help you look for funds that might be able to give you a grant or other type of financial help. You can contact their helpline on 0808 802 2000.

Child Maintenance

I’ve not received any child maintenance for 34 weeks. I’m meant to get £172 a week. CMS (Child Maintenance Service) took 5 months to change case to collect and pay resulting in high arrears! I’ve sent four official complaints with three identical responses. They haven’t chased my ex-partner since end of November as they are looking into his bank accounts, but I fear he isn’t going to pay. There’s an injunction in place as he was violent, so I can’t contact him to ask if we can arrange it ourselves. I’ve had bailiffs at the door over my mortgage. I have four children and I’m living off employment support allowance and PIP. I can’t even afford to heat the house. CMS have said if this isn’t successful it will take 6-9 months to get to court for a liability order. I’ll have lost my house by that point. Is there anything that can be done to speed the process up?

Our advice

We’re sorry to hear about your problems with the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The delays sound unacceptable and this is clearly impacting on your financial situation.

You can find more information about the CMS and enforcement here. We also have a factsheet with more detailed information on enforcement methods, including links to information about making a complaint. You’re not obliged to make any contact with your ex to make a child maintenance claim if there has been domestic abuse. You can find out what the CMS should do for you if there has been domestic abuse here.  If you’d like advice about child maintenance or welfare benefits, you can ring the free Gingerbread helpline on 0808 802 0925.

For advice on debt, including mortgage arrears, you can ring National Debtline on 0808 808 4000. Their helpline gets very busy so if you have difficulty getting through you could try contacting them by webchat via their website here.

Child Maintenance Service payment

I have a 10 year old daughter. I separated from her father 6 years ago. Her father does not pay child maintenance and earns £85-90K a year. When buying items for my daughter such as a new winter coat, school uniform, or for hobbies/clubs he insists that we go 50/50 on everything. I am a children’s nurse in the NHS and cannot match his salary, so I’m really struggling to meet this demand. Is there some kind of guidance on how much parents should pay in this situation? Thanks.

Our advice

If your daughter’s dad won’t willingly pay child maintenance then you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service if you provide more day to day care for your daughter than he does. There is a one off application fee of £20 when you apply, unless you have experienced domestic violence. 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 and will also be affected if he has regular overnight contact with your daughter. You can find more information on applying to the Child Maintenance Service and the calculations they do on our website here. If he still doesn’t pay they can take enforcement action against him. There are further charges to both parents if they have to do this. A 4% charge would be deducted from the child maintenance paid to you. Your daughter’s father would have to pay the maintenance due plus 20% extra, which goes to the CMS. You can find details of enforcing child maintenance here.

You don’t say whether you are claiming any benefits as a single parent. You may want to give one of our advisers a call to discuss this on our free helpline on 0808 802 0925.

I believe I’m owed more CMS than I’m getting

I’m currently using the CMS to receive child maintenance for my daughter from her father. He doesn’t see her and has also not paid anything through the CMS, but does pay for another child through the CMS. I’ve filed complaints with the CMS, but they are limited as to what they can tell me about any investigations into my case. After initially awarding my daughter £30 a week, it’s has now been reduced to 3.50 a week, now £3.15 after the collect and pay fee is deduced, and I don’t believe he is honest about his income. My ex has two businesses, and I have proof of his earnings and records of his assets. What can I do to fight this?
Many thanks,
A desperate parent.

Our advice

You can request a variation of the CMS decision. This is where you ask the CMS to take into account income or circumstances that it hasn’t already considered. You can use this procedure because you believe that your daughter’s father’s income is higher than he has declared. You may also be able to ask them to take into account his assets, depending on what type of assets he has and what the value of them is. You can find further information on our website here in section 3 about the different grounds for a variation and how to request one. You can ask for a variation on as many of the grounds that you think are applicable. If the variation is unsuccessful you could request a mandatory reconsideration. If the mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful then you could appeal to a tribunal.

If you request a variation you could also ask for your case to be referred to a department of the CMS called the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU). The CMS should consider doing this if you ask them to. The FIU’s role is to investigate a parent’s finances more thoroughly. It can take a long time for a case to be investigated by the FIU, but it may increase the chances of your variation request being successful. However, if it isn’t successful and you decide to challenge the decision, involvement of the FIU will increase the overall time it takes for your case to come before an appeal tribunal.

The cost of childcare

I am a single parent currently living with family as I cannot afford to rent privately. I am currently on maternity leave and will be due to return to work in September when my child is 11 months old. My income will be circa £31,000 before tax. Will I be entitled to any financial assistance with childcare when I return to work? I live in London and nursery places are around £60 per day. At this price, over half of my monthly take-home will be going on childcare! I will never be able to afford to move out and pay for my daughter to attend nursery and I’m worried that I’ll be left with no option but to remain a stay at home mum!

Our advice

You should be able to get some help with childcare costs either by claiming universal credit (including the childcare element) or tax-free childcare. Which one you’ll be entitled to do and how much you might get will depend on your circumstances (such as your income and savings). Therefore we recommend you get a benefit check to see which source of childcare support is best for you. You can either do your own benefit check online or if you call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline, one of our advisers can do one for you.

Universal credit is a means-tested benefit which has replaced the majority of benefits and tax credits If you’re entitled to the childcare element of universal credit, up to 85% of your childcare costs can be reimbursed and included in your monthly payment. You can find out more here about the childcare element of universal credit here. If you move into rented accommodation you can also get help with rent if you qualify for universal credit.

Tax-free child care has replaced the previous childcare vouchers scheme. It works by the government topping up money you put aside for childcare up to a maximum of £2,000 per child per year. You can find out more here.

You can’t get tax-free childcare at the same time as claiming universal credit, even if you don’t claim the childcare costs element of universal credit.

Please note that we are assuming that you don’t already claim universal credit or tax credits – if you do, please call our helpline for further information to see what the best childcare option is for you.

Advice for my daughter

Hello, I have come across your website as looking for advice for my daughter. She has split from her partner (not married, but does have joint mortgage and 2 year old son with him). They have both ended the relationship and my daughter has moved back in with us with her son as they argue too much. Their child has regular contact and stays with both our daughter at ours and the father on a regular basis. We are unable to talk with our daughter because she just isn’t taking any advice and we are at our wits end with worry. Her ex partner controls bank accounts and also the child benefit has been put in his name. My daughter has no control over anything financial, she pays half towards the mortgage as it’s her responsibility and her ex partner asks her for half of the child care costs. Neither of them get any benefits because they both work full time. She does have access to their home and still has a key, so goes to collect her post. She has so far done nothing about getting advice or changed her address with bank. It feels like she is in denial. Emotions are very tense and I feel she is unable to see things clearly and or/discuss with her ex partner where they go from here. We are also unable to talk to him about all this because he will take it out on her and cause a row, so we are in a difficult position as parents. Can you please send me some information so I can pass it onto her. We have suggested that they sell the home and or/one buys other out. Also my daughter has funded most of the home and we as her parents have funded the deposit for them to move initially. I feel that my daughter has come off worse. It’s very sad and we feel we need some extra support. My husband is seriously ill at present and I am unable to cope with any more stress. Please help guide us in the right direction.

Our advice

It sounds like you’re having a very difficult time. There’s a lot to think about when a relationship ends and your daughter may find it helpful to talk to Relate who can support her in coping with emotions and feelings caused by separation. If her ex-partner is abusive or controlling, the National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247 can also provide advice and support.

Your daughter may benefit from getting some legal advice about the division of property and finance, particularly if she has made the greater financial contribution to the purchase of the family home. The Family Law Panel is a network of family law professionals which offers a free initial conversation with a solicitor. You can search their website for a solicitor near you. Rights of Women is a charity which also has a helpline offering free legal advice to women.

There is financial help available to those who are working and your daughter may be entitled to benefits even if she is working full time. If she’s now the main carer for your grandson the child benefit can be transferred into her name and she may also be entitled to other benefits which can help with the cost of day to day living, including help with childcare. We would need more information about her financial circumstances in order to work out the benefits she can claim. She can contact our free single parent helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to one of our expert advisers and get a full benefit check.

You can find lots more information on our website about action to take on separation and the support available.

Going through a divorce

Hello I am currently splitting with husband. I applied for a divorce we both agreed and we not gonna prevent it. I need help with get home for me and my children. Currently I’m renting a room and my daughter has stayed with my ex husband. The property is a shared ownership and my husband doesn’t want to sell it. I’m working in London and the house we have is in Kent. I am also pregnant, and feel completely lost. Can you give me any advice what can I do with my situation? I cannot go back to my old house and live with my husband we were arguing a lot. But I really want to have my girls with me.

Our advice

As you’re married and own a property together you have a financial interest in that property. If your ex-husband doesn’t want to sell the property he may have to buy out your share. It can be difficult working out the division of property and finances at separation and you may wish to seek legal advice to help you. The Family Law Panel is a network of family law professionals which offers a free initial conversation with a solicitor. You can search their website for a solicitor near you. Rights of Women is a charity which offers legal advice to women. They have information on their website about financial arrangements after marriage breakdown, or you can contact their helpline for advice.

You may be entitled to benefits which could help with the costs of renting a larger property. This would depend on things like your income, when your baby is due, and the amount of savings and capital you have. We’d need more information to work out the benefits you would be entitled to. You can contact our free single parent helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to one of our expert advisers and get a full benefit check.

Student finances over the summer

How do I manage if I’m a student finishing college in June with no income until I start again in August for bills? I only receive Child Tax Benefit and Child benefit as I had to give up my job for study. I won’t be able to work plus study next semester either as my course very theory and practical based.

Our advice

You may be able to make a claim for contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance from when you finish college until you return. This is also known as ‘new style jobseeker’s allowance’ and you can find more information about this on the Gov.uk website here.

If you don’t meet the national insurance conditions for new style jobseeker’s allowance you could instead make a claim for universal credit. However, claiming universal credit would mean that your child tax credit claim would end as you would get a child element in your universal credit instead. When you return to college in August you would remain on universal credit as it isn’t possible to ever go back onto child tax credit once you’ve made a claim for universal credit.

If, when you return to college, you will receive or could receive any student funding for living costs such as a maintenance loan or certain other payments, we would strongly advise you to call our helpline before deciding whether or not to make a claim for universal credit. This is because single parents getting student funding are sometimes worse off on universal credit. Whether or not you would be worse off will depend on your individual circumstances.

You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 for a calculation of how much universal credit you would be entitled to during the summer holiday and when you return to college in August. An adviser will need certain information from you including details of any student funding you will or could receive and whether you have rent to pay.

Underpaid on Universal Credit

My employer changed my payday by five days in January and it’s affected my universal credit. I get paid a salary monthly so I receive the same income each month. My universal credit statement period is 21st-20th. My original payday was 25th but it’s been moved to the 20th so my Dec pay and Jan pay have landed in the same assessment period with Jan pay going into previous period by one day. This has resulted in me having £540 taken from my universal credit payment (63% off earnings over £278) instead of the normal £180. This has left me £360 down this month and after my rent and bills are paid I’m left with £20 to live off for the month, that doesn’t even cover my bus fare to work. I have contacted Universal Credit numerous times to no avail. I have also asked for a mandatory reconsideration which I’m waiting to hear back from. I couldn’t even get an advanced or budgeting loan as I earn too much. I am single, work part-time and have two children of 12 and 8. The only advice Universal Credit could give me was to contact my local MP. Where do I stand as I feel this is highly unfair and had put me in a position where I can’t even feed my children.

Our advice

Unfortunately as your employer has changed your pay date this has led to you having two payments within your December-January assessment period and the DWP look at payments received in each assessment period for the calculation. You may have heard about a recent High Court ruling which held that the DWP can and should adjust its calculation of universal credit awards when “it is clear that the actual amounts received in an assessment period do not, in fact, reflect the earned income payable in respect of that period”. In other words, wages should be allocated to the month in which they were earned, rather than to the assessment period in which they were received. However, this High Court ruling was about cases where someone is paid on a different date occasionally, due to their usual payment date falling on a bank holiday or weekend. This is unlikely to help in your circumstances as your payment date has changed and so if they were to allocate your January pay to the January-February assessment period, you would be in the same situation for the Jan-Feb universal credit payment instead. This is because your January and February pay would then be taken into account in the January-February assessment period. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a solution to your loss of universal credit caused by your employer changing your payment date.

You may find it helpful to see the information on our website here about possible sources of financial help in a crisis.

Clean break financial consent

What the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to get a clean break financial consent order drafted and signed by court. Please help, as solicitors are quoting some ridiculous fees which I feel are not needed when we both are in agreement of a clean break.

Our advice

It can be expensive to use solicitors as part of a financial separation but the government website, Gov.uk, states that a solicitor is needed to draft the agreement you reach with your ex in order for this is be made into a consent order. There is more information on the Gov.uk website about this. There’s also an organisation called Advicenow which has a guide on reaching an agreement about finances on separation and they also have a fixed fee advice service in which solicitors answer your questions. You could also check for solicitors who are committed to minimising confrontation during divorce or dissolution on the Resolution website. The Family Law Panel has a list of specialist family law solicitors who offer a free initial consultation. Our factsheet Getting Legal Help provides information about sources of legal advice, including for those needing legal advice about sorting out property and finances after separation.

Rent assistance while working

I would like to ask for information about housing. In case I am single mum, I work full time and do not take any benefits. It is possible to ask for help with paying rent. If so, what are the conditions? May I rent private property and do I have to help with rent?

Our advice

If you are a single parent and you are struggling to pay your rent, you may be able to get help through Universal Credit.

A payment called the ‘housing costs element’ can be included in your monthly Universal Credit payment to help with your rental costs. It’s usually paid directly to you along with the rest of your Universal Credit payment each month, and you then pay the rent to your landlord when it’s due.

Entitlement for Universal Credit is based on your circumstances, your income and savings. Even though you are working full time, you may still be entitled to it. You can find general information about Universal Credit here.

We would recommend checking to see if you would qualify for Universal Credit by doing an online benefit calculation or by contacting the Gingerbread Helpline for a benefit calculation over the phone. This would show you if you are entitled to universal credit and any other benefits or financial support.

If you’re not already receiving it, you may be entitled to receive child maintenance payments from  your ex-partner. If it’s not possible to arrange this informally, you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service. You can find out more about your options for arranging child maintenance here.

Children’s savings

How much in savings can my children have before it effects my entitlement? I work part time and claim some benefits. Their father has recently started paying child maintenance. I have survived without it for a long time so now any maintenance they receive I put away for them. Their savings are in trust for them however because they are young I have control over their accounts. Money only ever gets paid in never withdrawn. Is it seen as my ‘capital’ even though it is very much their money?

Our advice

If you are getting tax credits these are not affected by capital, regardless of whether the capital is your children’s or yours. Tax credits can sometimes be affected by certain types of income from capital (such as taxable interest) over £300 a year. Whether income from the savings in your children’s accounts could be treated as yours may depend on the particular details of how the accounts are set up and whether you would be able to draw income from the accounts if you chose to.

If you are getting other benefits the rules are more complicated and depend on what benefits you are getting.

For information or advice about your own individual circumstances please contact our Single Parent Helpline.

My council are making me live outside my means

I was just wondering about help for families forced into poverty? I’m being forced into a private rent I cant afford by my local council, its £650pcm and I’m going to only get £433 help towards it. I have 2 children and they are forcing me to get rid of our family dog that provides therapeutic support to my son who has had a trauma because of his dad, and is going through assessments for ASD/ADHD and is diagnosed with DCD/dyspraxia. The house is unsuitable for him as it’s a 3 story house and my son struggles with stairs. Once we are forced into it I will be paying out £650 rent, £20 council tax and around £160 for gas and electric, £40 for water, as well as personal debt which consists of payment plans that are ending in the summer months. I will basically be paying out more per month than I earn (I work part time and keep £20 per week of my wages). The council haven’t done an income and expenditure yet, they were doing it with me but decided to do the final offer before this, despite me saying I can’t afford it. There’s nothing more they can do. So I will be having to choose between bills or food. This happened in my last house, and when I applied for DHP to cover shortfall they said I have to prioritise my rent over food. I’m worried I won’t be able to feed my kids. Surely there’s something that can be done? Why should they force a struggling family into a home they cant afford putting two innocent children into poverty?

Our advice

We’re sorry to hear you’re in financial difficulty. If you want to look at whether you can increase your income and get more benefits or other local help, you can contact our free single parent helpline on 0808 802 0925.

Contact has a helpline where you can get advice on a range of issues, including benefits, when you have a disabled child.

You could contact the National Debtline if you’d like advice about paying your debts, and whether you can renegotiate any of these. You may also find our information about money and debt on our website here useful.

If you think the private rented accommodation you’re expected to move into isn’t affordable and unsuitable for your family’s needs, you can ring the Shelter helpline on 0808 800 4444. You can also check on the Shelter website to see if they also have a local office in your area.

You could also mention your concerns about your family dog to Shelter when taking housing advice. If you need advice on fostering your dog you can contact the Dogs Trust for support.

You mentioned your son had suffered trauma from his dad. You may find it useful to look at our information on the support available for children and young people.