When a couple separate there is a lot to think about, but I like to talk to my clients about maximising the household income by ensuring that all benefits available are correctly claimed as soon as possible.
Child benefit: On separation the parent with care should ensure that the benefit is either being paid into their own account or that application is made to The Department of Work and Pensions to ensure that this happens.
From 7 January 2013 a household with an income of more than £60,000 gross per annum will no longer be entitled to claim any child benefit. If a household loses this but one parent later leaves and the household income falls below this figure, a claim should be made to reinstate the child benefit entitlement.
Entitlement to a discount of 25% on council tax payments may be available if the remaining parent is the only adult living in the household irrelevant of what income may be being received. Such a claim can be back dated but care should be taken in this regard as terms are often complex.
Tax credits are determined by household income which are available whether or not parents are separated. Where previously the household may not have qualified, a separation might place the household in a different position if the total income reduces below a specific level making qualification a possibility.
For those single parents working at least 16 hours per week, working families tax credit is another valuable benefit to claim. This is a separate benefit to the above and will be evaluated separately. It is worthwhile making an enquiry of The Department of Work and Pensions.
It is not just the parent with the care of the children for whom claiming these benefits is important. There is benefit to both parents in ensuring that a separated parent is claiming all that he or she can. Any extra income received will potentially reduce a claim for maintenance from the absent spouse.
I always cover this topic with a client at first interview as dealing with these claims at any early stage can go some way to making life less difficult. It is the difference between providing merely legal advice and my approach of supporting the client in the fullest sense.