One of the key tasks on separation is to maximise the household income by ensuring that all benefits available are correctly claimed as soon as possible.
If the household income has fallen due to one parent leaving the family home on separation, possible claims to many benefits, including child benefit, will need to be reviewed. It is necessary to seek information about the monies which a single parent is entitled to claim as soon as possible.
Child benefit amounts to £20.30 per week for the first child and £13.40 for each child thereafter. Benefit is paid until a child reaches the age of 16 years or later if the child continues in full time education. 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 (DWP) to ensure this happens. (Figures correct as of April 2014).
From 7 January 2013 a household with an income of more than £60,000 gross per annum is no longer entitled to claim any child benefit. So if one parent leaves and the household income falls below this figure a claim will need to 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. This can be achieved by making contact with the Local Authority and making a declaration of being a sole adult occupier. 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. As with child benefit, 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.
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. Whatever the circumstances it is worthwhile making the enquiry of The Department of Work and Pensions. In some areas 'Universal Credit' is now the relevant benefit. Enquiries should be made of DWP.
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 from the benefit system. The benefits can add up to a significant amount each month and any extra income received will potentially reduce a claim for maintenance from the absent partner.