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

Video games and contact arrangements

My ex-husband is allowing my eight year old son and my twelve year old daughter to play games such as Grand Theft Auto 5 and Call of Duty. These games, as you are aware, are PEGI rating 18. My children are aware that they are not allowed to play these games and have told their father so but his response is, “Your mum is not the boss of this house. My house, my rules.”

Am I able to restrict access to my children on the grounds of neglect/abuse? Both of my children are very sensitive and I only want to protect them. Can anyone give me any advice? I have spoken to their school IT adviser who has said they will log it as a concern but that is it. I know from experience that very little of these go to Social Services and there is no law against this.

Our advice

Although there are no specific rules in place regarding this particular issue, any contact arrangements should be made in the best interests of the children. Parents often have different parenting styles but if these games are having a negative effect on the children you should initially address this with your ex-husband if possible.

If you find it difficult to discuss things with him, you could use mediation to help you reach an agreement about what the children do during contact, or about changing the arrangements for contact. You can find more information about mediation on our website. If mediation isn’t appropriate or you can’t reach an agreement, then either parent can apply to court for a Child Arrangement Order and the court can then make an order specifying the arrangements for the children.

If you already have a Child Arrangement Order from the court in place, you would need to seek legal advice before changing any arrangements for your children’s contact with their father. Our website has information about getting legal help which you may find useful.

Getting back to work

I’m finding it really difficult to find any job that fits around my children’s school hours. I’m a single lone parent to three children who are ten, eight and four years old. They are all now in school and I’m being switched to UC.

I’m really worried. I drop them off and pick them up every day. Their school is a 15 minute drive away. I suffer with depression and anxiety as it is; I’m on anti-depressants, I’ve brought all my children up and haven’t worked for a very, very long time. Now, it’s my time to do something for me and get back to work.

Our advice

If you’re getting income support at the moment, you can stay on this until your youngest child is five unless there’s another change in your circumstances before then that may cause you to need to claim Universal Credit. You can find more information about this on our website. If your youngest child is about to turn five, this would explain why you are being switched to Universal Credit.

Getting back into work after a long gap can be really daunting. When you claim Universal Credit, you’ll have a Work Coach who should help you with finding suitable work that fits around your children’s school hours. They should also take into account your depression and anxiety if these difficulties affect your ability to work, the hours you can work, or the support you may need with moving into work. There are special rules for single parents about how many hours of work you can be expected to look for, which you can find on our website.

Your Work Coach should discuss with you what support you may need to help you with moving into work. This can include things like training, help with writing a CV, help with looking for work and applying for jobs, and help with preparing for interviews. They may refer you to a Jobcentre scheme or other local service that provides this kind of support.

You could also contact the National Careers Service. They provide free and impartial information, advice and guidance to help people with decisions about careers, training and work. You can find their contact details and more information about how they can help on their website.

You may also find it helpful to read our information about starting work.

Moving from a council property to privately rented

I am currently claiming UC and live in a 2 bedroom council house with my 2 children who are 20 and 10. I am overcrowded and looking at private rental. I have found a three-bedroom house across my street. The rent is £600 and £600 bond. I can’t afford the bond. My question is can I get help from any organisation to help towards the bond? How much am I eligible for from Universal Credit towards a three-bedroom house.? I look forward to hearing from you.

Our advice

You may be able to apply for a grant from a charitable organisation to help towards the deposit and other moving costs. Turn2Us hold a database of charitable organisations in the UK who offer grants, and you can either search this on their website or ask one of their advisers to help you find a grant you might be eligible for – visit their website for further information and contact details.

You might also be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) from your local council which you can use to help pay your deposit. Each council has its own policy on who can claim DHPs, so the best thing to do is to contact your local council and to make an application. A DHP is non-refundable so you won’t have to pay back any payments you are given. Find out more about DHPs.

As you’re currently claiming Universal Credit, you may be eligible for an advance payment or budgeting advance. This is an interest-free loan which can help with essential costs, such as those that come with moving house.  You can find out more about these payments on our website.

Your Universal Credit can include a housing element. The amount of this element is calculated based on how many people will live in the house, whether they are ‘dependents’ and the area you live in. This is called the Local Housing Allowance. We don’t have enough information about your circumstances to advise you of your Local Housing Allowance or the amount of Universal Credit you would receive if you started renting privately, but you can call our free helpline for a benefit check.

As you currently have a council tenancy, you may want to look into options for transferring this to another council property that’s more suitable for your family. Shelter has information on their website about this. If you do move to private rented housing, you won’t have the same rights as you do as a council tenant. You may want to speak to a housing adviser at Shelter on 0808 800 4444 before making this decision.

Making child maintenance arrangements

Hello there. My daughter’s father is always late paying child maintenance so I want to set up a formal payment, especially as if I message him to remind him, he’s very impolite which is obviously unneccessary and I dread contacting him.

Things are amicable, and he sees her regularly but I have to remind every single month which I don’t want to have to keep doing. Can you advise the best route please for me to go down? Thank you.

Our advice

If your daughter’s dad won’t willingly pay child maintenance, then 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.

If he still doesn’t pay, then arrears will build and they can take enforcement action against him. You can find details here about how payment of child maintenance is enforced.

Benefit entitlements

Can anyone tell me if I’m entitled to anymore help than I am currently getting? In 2018, I was a full-time student and my husband left me. Because of this, Child Tax Credits ended my claim but Universal Credit would not help me despite me only bringing in £800 a month student bursary.

I am now employed on £24,000 per year and really struggling to make ends meet as my ex-husband has dropped financial support drastically. Universal Credit still won’t help me and I don’t understand why if I was still on Tax Credits I’d be getting substantial support but now I get nothing. I already claim single person discount for Council Tax.

Our advice

Your entitlement to benefits whilst working as a single parent will depend on your situation, including how many children you have, any savings you have, childcare costs and eligible housing costs. We would need more information to do a calculation. 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.

If your child’s dad has reduced the child maintenance he pays and you think he should be paying more, 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 after pension contributions, whether he has any other children, and the amount of overnight stays your children have with him. You can find more information on applying to the Child Maintenance Service on our website.

Making flexible working arrangements

I am currently working full-time and have two children, 12 and 14. My 14 year-old daughter has been off school since Easter with anxiety and depression, and is waiting treatment from NHS Mental Health team. I get no support from the father and only £70 a month through child maintenance.

I want to reduce my hours from 36 to 20 hours a week as I currently have to leave my daughter who is ill all day and my 12 year-old son from 3.30pm to 6pm each day. If my boss agrees to reduce my hours, will I get any tax credits if it was my decision to drop hours? Will I be worse off if my tax credits are based on last year’s income? I earn £36,000 and am living in social housing rented accommodation. Thank you for any advice you can give.

Our advice

You may find the flexible working information on our website  helpful when preparing to ask your boss if you can reduce your hours.

If you’re already getting tax credits, including if you have an open claim but currently receive no payments because your income is too high, we have some information on our website about changes of circumstances that you might find helpful. It includes information about how changes in hours and income affect tax credits.

If you don’t already have a claim for tax credits, you won’t be able to make a new claim. This is because Universal Credit has replaced new claims for tax credits and certain benefits. You may be able to make a claim for Universal Credit instead. Whether you’ll be entitled to UC, as well as how much, will depend on your circumstances including what your reduced earnings will be after tax; national insurance and any payments you make into a pension scheme; whether you have savings; and how much your rent is.

You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 for a full benefit check to calculate your entitlement to tax credits (if you have a claim) or Universal Credit if you reduce your hours, and to check to see if you may become entitled to anything else.

You may be able to claim a benefit called Disability Living Allowance for your daughter. The charity Contact has more information about this on their website. Your earnings don’t affect Disability Living Allowance so this isn’t dependent on whether or not you reduce your hours. If you start to receive Disability Living Allowance for your daughter, you would also become entitled to an extra amount for her in Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit, if you’re entitled to either of these.

You may also find it helpful to read the information on our website about sources of support for children and young people.