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

Housing and Universal Credit

Up to now I have worked 16 hours per week on a farm. I claim some Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. My hours are going to be reduced to 8 per week very soon as there isn’t the work for me. I have suffered with my back for quite a few years now and had quite a bit of time off because of it. I struggle to do many jobs on the farm now and my employers sons are back home to work on the farm and are far more capable than me in all areas. He can only offer me 8 hours per week as there isn’t enough work for all of us. I am looking to apply for Universal Credit to help me out until I can find something else. I separated from my partner 11 years ago I moved out and he still lives in the house which I half own. Housing Benefit have disregarded this against my claim but would Universal Credit do the same? I read they should for 6 months but would this be 6 months from applying or from moving out? I don’t want to apply then lose my tax credits and be far worse off.

Our advice

The value of the house you jointly own is disregarded for 6 months from when you moved out. This rule applies to both Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, although for Universal Credit it can be disregarded for a longer period if it’s reasonable to do so. As you’re getting Housing Benefit and you moved out of your former home 11 years ago, it seems there must be a different reason for it continuing to be disregarded. For example, it can be disregarded if your ex-partner who’s still living in the house is over pension age, or if he’s been assessed as having a limited capability for work. If the value of the house is being disregarded on one of these two grounds, it would also be disregarded for Universal Credit.

If the value of the house is being disregarded for some other reason, please call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 and speak to one of our advisers about your situation. Even if the value of your former home can be disregarded for Universal Credit, it is still important to get advice on whether or not you’d be better off on Universal Credit before deciding whether to make a claim or to stay on Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. One of our advisers can explore your circumstances further and advise you on your options.

If you’re not happy with your employer’s decision to reduce your hours, you can seek advice on your employment rights from ACAS.

If your back problems affect your ability to get around or to take part in everyday life, you may also be able to claim a benefit called personal independence payment. You can find information about this on the Disability Rights UK website here.

You don’t mention who the children mainly live with, what the usual contact arrangements are, or if there are any other arrangements that could be made for the children. We would need this information in order to be able to advise you fully. You or your daughter can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 and speak to one of our advisers about the situation and the options available to her. We also have information on our website about coronavirus and arrangements for children.

Please bear in mind that Gingerbread cannot provide medical advice. If you need medical advice you can read more about the symptoms of coronavirus and how to avoid it on the NHS website.

Furlough and childcare

On the government website about furloughing there is a bit about letting people who have child care problems because of covid-19 get furloughed. Is this right or have I read it wrong? I have been furloughed since March but it’s coming to an end this month. The only person that cares for my children is my mum and she is in isolation until middle of June. I’m getting so upset, stressed and worked up about it. Do I have a right to ask my employer to carrying on my furlough for these reasons please?

Our advice

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means that if an employee is placed on ‘furlough’, their employer can claim 80% of their wages which can be paid directly to the employee to prevent them from leaving their employment and becoming unemployed.

The government guidance does say that if someone cannot work because of childcare or caring their caring responsibilities, they can be placed on furlough and their employer will be able to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to claim 80% of their wages. Here’s the direct quote from the government guidance:

“If you are unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus (COVID-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in your household, then you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough”.

You say that you’ve been furloughed since March but this is coming to an end. This may be because your place of work is re-opening, or you were eligible to be furloughed for another reason. We’d suggest that you could speak to your employer and ask to be placed back on furlough due to lack of childcare. If they refuse then you should seek further advice, either by calling our helpline, or from an employment organisation such as ACAS.

My ex-partner wants to take the children on holiday

My ex is talking about taking the kids on holiday in July. I’ve said we should discuss it when/if the guidelines change but he’s insisting on setting a date. He’s quite argumentative and likes to threaten litigation whenever I disagree with anything he says. I don’t want to get into an argument but I am not happy about the kids going on holiday with things as they are at present. What should I do?

Our advice

The current government guidance states that you are not permitted to stay overnight from the place you are living for a holiday.

In addition to the coronavirus travel restrictions which have been in place for several months, the UK government has announced that from 8th June, anyone travelling to the UK (including returning British Nationals) will be required to self isolate for 2 weeks. Any person or family found to not be following these rules may face a fine. For more information, please see here and here.

Many countries also have their own travel restrictions in place and airlines are also offering a reduced service. All of this together means that it may not be practically possible for your husband to take the children on holiday in July, even if you were to agree.

If you both have parental responsibility and there is no court order in place, your husband would need to have your consent to take the children out of the country anyway. If you find it difficult to reach an agreement, you could use a mediator to help you. National Family Mediation has a consultation service to help parents during the coronavirus crisis. You can contact them on 0300 4000 636. If you can’t reach an agreement in mediation then either parent can apply to the family court where the court would make a decision based on the children’s best interests. For detailed information about this and the steps you can take if you are concerned your ex will try to take them out of the UK without your consent, please see here.

Parenting at my ex-partner’s house

My son’s father’s partner is controlling my son when he’s over there and he’s left with her. I’m not comfortable, is there anything I can do or am I powerless as he’s in his father’s care, so it’s his father’s choice?

Our advice

Contact arrangements should always be made in the best interests of the child. If the arrangements for the care of your son aren’t working then there are certain steps you can take.

If you feel that the current arrangements are unsafe or immediately harmful for your son you can stop contact while you make an alternative safe arrangement. If you have a child arrangement order from the court in place you must seek legal advice before stopping or changing any child arrangements. Failure to do so may result in a breach of the court order. If you’re worried about the safety of your child you can get specialist advice from the NSPCC’s 24 hour helpline on 0808 800 5000.

Where there’s no risk of harm, each parent is generally expected to exercise their judgement and decide who is appropriate to look after their children while they are in their care. If you feel the current arrangement is not working in your son’s best interests you should, if possible, discuss the problems with his father to try and find a solution. If you find it difficult to reach an agreement together you could use a mediation service to help you. A mediator will focus on helping you to reach a child-centred agreement. Legal aid is available to help with the costs of mediation. Our website has more information about making arrangements for contact and getting help when you can’t agree.

We’d need more information about the situation to give more specific advice. You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 if you’d like to talk to one of our specialist advisers.

Single parents and benefits

I am a single parent but would like to know if I can get bereavement allowance if we were together or any other benefits?

Our advice

Bereavement support payment is for people who were married or in a civil partnership and their spouse or civil partner has died. You can find further information on the Citizens Advice website here.

The High Court decided earlier this year that the requirement to be married or in a civil partnership in order to claim bereavement support payment was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. You can find more information about this here, including advice to unmarried bereaved parents on making a claim.

If your child’s other parent has died and you were separated or never lived together, you wouldn’t be entitled to bereavement support payment.

You may be eligible for a funeral expenses payment to help with the cost of a funeral if your partner, a close relative, or a close friend has died. You can find information about this on the Gov.uk website here.

Whether you’re entitled to any other benefits will depend on your circumstances, so please contact our helpline on 0808 802 0925 if you’d like to speak to one of our advisers about your situation.

If you have been bereaved, you may also want to contact Cruse Bereavement Care for support, advice and information. You can find further information about how they help on their website here.

Bringing children to my workplace

I am a single parent with children off school until September. One of my two part time jobs is 14 hours per week cleaning at my large church and offices. I have been furloughed from this job until now but have to go back on Tuesday and have been told to bring my children with me! I will be expected to clean for 14 hours each week while looking after them in the church building and homeschooling. How is this allowed? Are we allowed to bring children into the workplace under social distancing?

Our advice

Your employer can ask you to return to work but if you have no childcare available there are a number of arguments you can make to your employer. When you were furloughed your employer should have given you written confirmation stating the reason you were furloughed. If you were furloughed due to your care commitments you should explain to your employer that the schools are still closed and the reason for your furlough is still in place. The Government guidance remains that you should stay at home where possible.

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.

Single parent post-graduates

I am starting a postgraduate masters degree in September. I’m a mature student and have two daughters, 6 and 9. Currently I work in a school part time as a technician, so I claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit for some of my costs. I also receive Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. I will be studying full time so won’t be able to continue with my work in the school. Do you know what benefits or finances I will be entitled to? Thank you.

Our advice

You’re likely to be eligible for a postgraduate loan to help with your course fees and living expenses. Your university may have bursaries or financial hardship funds to help with additional costs such as childcare.

If you’re the only adult in your home you won’t have to pay council tax while you’re a full-time student. In addition you continue to be entitled to housing benefit and child tax credits. The benefits you can receive will depend on your circumstances, including where you live, how much your rent is and any other income you have. We’d need more information to work out exactly what you’re entitled to but you can speak to an adviser on our free helpline for a calculation and to go through your situation in more detail.

Help with appliances

Hi I’m wondering if anyone can help me to get a fridge freezer I’m a single mum on benefits can’t get any loans, I’m desperate.

Our advice

Your council may have a local welfare assistance scheme to help provide essential items in an emergency. You can find out more about local welfare assistance in your area here. Turn2us is a charity which can help you to search for grants to help you buy a fridge freezer. You can contact Turn2us on 0808 802 2000.

Childcare arrangements in lockdown

Please can you help? My daughter’s dad usually has her every other weekend however he hasn’t had her for since the middle of March. His reasoning is that he lives with his father whom is over 70. He’s a very lazy man who uses any excuse to get out of seeing his daughter as it is and this is something he will continue to use for as long as he can. Obviously it’s affecting my daughter’s mental health and my own, as a single parent. He isn’t giving me any extra money even though I’m caring for her permanently now and have been for the last 2 months. Is there anything I can do about this? Being over 70 I noticed is a moderate risk rather than high risk. Also, my daughter needs to be with her father too. I’d just like some advice on how to proceed so that my daughter can spend time with her father again. Thank you.

Our advice

It sounds as if you and your daughter are finding it hard now that she hasn’t seen her dad for some time. This is a really stressful time and it’s important to look after your own and your child’s emotional health. Our website has resources to help you and your child’s wellbeing, which you may find useful.

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the government has issued guidance about staying at home where possible.  Children can leave their home to see their other parent in line with previous arrangements, although this will depend on issues such as the child’s welfare and risk to individuals. I’m afraid we can’t give health advice, including advice on Covid-19 and the specific risk to any group or individual. Here is a link to our information about child contact and Covid-19.

You could try and reach an agreement about contact through a process called family mediation. This is where a professional mediator helps parents who don’t live together to try and agree on issues like how much contact each parent has. Some mediators, such as National Family Mediation now offer mediation via video conference. Legal aid is available for family mediation, depending on your circumstances. You can find further information about mediation and other help when you can’t agree on our website.

We would need more information to be able to advise you about the child maintenance you are entitled to. You can find information about child maintenance on our website here or you can contact our helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to one of our advisers.

Changing jobs

Good morning, I’m not sure if anyone can help me at all. I’m currently on furlough pay but am unsure if my place of work will return once it is able to reopen again. I have been offered another job but it would mean I’m working fewer hours and would need to place my child, who will be 5, in after school care. I’m trying to find out what help I could get towards childcare I’ve tried using a calculator online to find out what I would be entitled too but it’s not giving me a straight answer. I currently receive Working and Child Tax Credits and work 20 hours a week at minimum wage. If I do have to find another job the job I’ve been offered would only be 12.5 hours per week, still at minimum wage. Can you suggest what I need to do please? Many thanks. I also have a little help towards Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction.

Our advice

If you take the job you have been offered of 12.5 hours a week your entitlement to Working Tax Credit will end. This is because you need to be working at least 16 hours to qualify for Working Tax Credit. If you are no longer receiving Working Tax Credit you wouldn’t be able to get help with child care costs unless you claimed a different benefit called Universal Credit. A claim for Universal Credit would end your current claims for Tax Credits and Housing Benefit. We would strongly advise getting some advice on whether this is the best option for you. You can call our helpline on 0808 802 0925 and speak to an adviser about your situation.

CMS help

Hello, I’m a single mom with one child. My baby’s dad doesn’t give any money for her and also he doesn’t see her. He doesn’t have any contact with her. I had a case in Child Maintenance Service but it’s closed probably now. They didn’t do anything in the case as they said they don’t have my ex partner’s address or his mobile number. He changed a couple months ago. Now I don’t have his new number and his new address so it means I’m not able to do anything. Can you please tell me what should I do? How can I get any support? Thank you.

Our advice

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) asks parents making an application to provide as much information as they can in order to help them trace the other parent and calculate the amount of Child Maintenance payable. However, it’s sometimes difficult to obtain this information when you’re separated. The CMS has wide powers to get the information they need from other agencies such as employers, local authorities, the Department for Work and Pensions and the HM Revenue and Customs.

You can contact the CMS to ask about the status of your application, what they have done and what they propose to do to trace the other parent. If you don’t think the CMS is doing enough to process the application, you can make a complaint. Here is our information about using the Child Maintenance Service, which includes details about how to make a complaint.

Separating from my partner

I am 25 years old and have a 2 year old son. I am graduated but currently out of work. Me and my (soon ex) partner are not from here and have no friends or family to help so I’m the one staying at home and looking after my son 24/7. We have recently reached a stage of relationship where we know it’s over. There were never any kind of aggressions, but unfortunately we couldn’t find a way to work our differences out. So lately I am constantly unhappy and alone at home with my son, who is my biggest blessing and brightens up my days. I understand these are difficult times but the past year has been terrible/non-existent for us as a couple and the situation is only aggravating due to this lockdown – including his drinking and smoking pushing us away more and more everyday. I wonder if you could give me some any advice or tell me where I could look for any help or support? At the moment I’m not even able to start working as there is no one to be with my son or to take him and collect him at nursery if he starts any time soon. We are still living together but as soon as life goes back to normal I’m decided to move forward with my life and my top priority is to make sure my son and I will live with dignity and safe.

Our advice

I’m sorry to hear about your difficult situation. We have information on our website here to help you understand what first steps you can take during and after a separation. It includes information on different aspects of separating including housing, Child Maintenance and contact arrangements, as well as sources of emotional support.

When you separate you may be entitled to claim Universal Credit and other help. You can find more information about this on our website here.

Your entitlements and options will depend on your circumstances, so please contact our helpline on 0808 802 0925 if you’d like speak to one of our advisers for more detailed advice about your situation.

Housing for me and my son

Hi, I became a single mother. My boy is 8 weeks old and I’m homeless. What I need to do to get a right support for me and my son. Thank you.

Our advice

It sounds like you’re in a very difficult situation at the moment, particularly regarding your housing situation. As you’re homeless you can make a homeless application with your local council. The council must assess your situation and give you a personal housing plan which aims to help you find somewhere to live. You may qualify for emergency housing while they are making their assessment. Shelter is a specialist housing advice charity which has more information about how to get help from the council when you’re homeless. You can contact their free emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444.

You may be entitled to benefit help, including help with housing costs, depending on your circumstances. We’d need more information in order to work out the benefits you’d be entitled to. You can contact our free helpline on 808 802 0925 to speak to one of our advisers about the help available to you, or you can check your entitlement using an online benefit calculator.

You can find more information about the support available to you after separation on our website here.

Going to university

I am a single parent, with two children aged eight and ten. For the last 4 years I have ran my own domestic cleaning business. I now wish to move to higher education (preferably university) to study in business. The only thing that is holding me back is knowing I may have to give up most, if not all of my business, and how that would impact me and my children financially. I can’t find any clear guidance on benefits and student loans and how one would affect the other. For example, would I be able to claim income support (I currently claim Working Tax Credits, Housing and Child Benefit to supplement my low income)? Would you be able to advise me on what I could expect to claim and any caps that would come into effect on any benefit, while receiving a student loan? Something else I am considering is whether I should work part time while learning, or would I be financially able to be a full time student? I appreciate any help you can give me on this. Thank you.

Our advice

You can potentially receive benefits as a student if you’re a single parent. The benefits you’ll be entitled to will depend on a number of things including the type of course you are doing, whether you receive funding for your course, your income and capital, and your housing and childcare costs.

Student Finance has information about student loans and funding for university courses. You can find more information about finance and benefits for single parent students on our website.

We would need more information about your circumstances in order to advise you fully on your benefit entitlement as a student. You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to talk to one of our advisers about the options available to you.