If you’re struggling to make ends meet – whether you work full-time, part-time, or are unemployed – make sure you know what help is out there.
“Despite working full time, my wages simply weren’t enough to support my family, and I struggled with rent and bills. Affording the right food for our children and even keeping the house warm became too much of a stretch.” Isaac
Isaac’s experiences are something that we regularly hear. Currently, there are 13 million people struggling in poverty in the UK. Shockingly, recent research has found that over half of these (6.7 million) are actually in working households.
13 million people in the UK live in poverty – and over half of these are in work
Every month, families are struggling to survive in the face of the rising cost of living, falling wages and a lack of stable employment.
Our recent research found that over three-fifths of working families on low incomes feel their situation has worsened in the last year. The extent to which the rising cost of living is hitting families is such that almost half (49%) say their outgoings now outweigh their earnings
However, support such as welfare benefits is available. But many (especially those in work) do not realise what is available – or are put off by the complexity.
So below we answer some of the frequent benefit questions we receive.
“I work full time but my partner is a single parent on Income Support and other benefits including Housing Benefit. Will we be entitled to any benefits as a couple?”
You are classed as working full time if you do 16 hours or more paid work per week. Your partner is allowed to do paid work of up to 24 hours per week.
Moving in with your partner is a significant change of circumstance, and you will have to inform the benefits office that pay your benefits if you move in together. As a couple, all benefit claims will need to be made as a couple based on your joint income and savings.
Income Support would no longer be possible as this is only for lone parents. New tax credit claims also have to be made. You would be able to claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support as a couple. Child Benefit will not be affected unless either of you are earning over £50,000.
“I work part time and my partner works full time. Will we lose our financial help because my new contract is under 16 hours a week, and does overtime count?”
The rule for couples qualifying for the childcare element of Working Tax Credit is that both must be working at least 16 hours per week (unless one is incapacitated, a carer, in hospital or in prison). When looking at how many hours you work, this should reflect the hours you ‘normally work’; if you regularly work more than contracted hours, the actual hours you work are what is relevant. If your overtime is regular, you can argue that it is part of your normal work and retain the help with your childcare costs.
“What if I have less work than usual?”
If you have less work than usual or no work, you might be able to claim benefits or the amount may increase.
If you are working full-time but your income has dropped, you might qualify for Working Tax Credit (WTC) for the first time (or the amount may increase if you already claim this).
For WTC purposes, working ‘full time’ could mean 16, 24 or 30 hours depending on your circumstances. The amount of WTC you get is worked out using your annual income. If the drop in your business means that your yearly income is likely to be less than the year before, the amount of WTC you qualify for could increase.
If you have not stopped working, but have reduced your hours and are working less than 16 hours a week, you might get Jobseeker’s Allowance. It can be difficult to get Jobseeker’s Allowance if you have only temporarily reduced your hours.
Zero hours contract
“I have a zero-hour contract. Can I still claim Working Tax Credit?”
For you to qualify for Working Tax Credit (WTC), you must normally work at least:
- 16 hours – if a disability puts you at a disadvantage in the work place, are over 60, a lone parent, or a couple with a child and your partner is unable to work
- 24 hours – if you are part of a couple and responsible for a child
- 30 hours – if you are over 25 and not covered by the 16 or 24 hour rules
You should think about the hours you ‘regularly, usually, or typically’ work. This might be different to the number of hours specified in your contract so being on a zero hour contract does not mean you cannot claim WTC. If your work hours fluctuate, then your hours are averaged over any recognised ‘cycle of work’. For example, if you work three weeks on and one week off, then an average of hours over a four-week period would be used.
If there is no pattern of work, then an average of your work hours is used over the five weeks immediately before you make a benefit claim.
“Apart from maternity pay, what benefits can I get while I am on maternity leave?”
If you were working enough hours to be eligible for Working Tax Credit (WTC) before you started your maternity leave, you can continue to be considered eligible for up to 39 weeks whilst on maternity leave. All Maternity Allowance (MA), or the first £100 of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), is ignored as income when your entitlement to tax credits is calculated.
Working Tax Credit could also include an amount to help with childcare costs for when you return to work. If you weren’t working enough hours to be eligible for WTC, you may be entitled to Income Support this benefit can include help with mortgage interest or a home purchase loan.
As soon as the baby is born, you will be entitled to Child Benefit and could be entitled to Child Tax Credit if you are on a low income.
If you are already getting help with your Housing Costs or Council Tax Support, you may be entitled to an increase if there is a reduction in your income or you may become entitled to them for the first time.
MyFamilyClub has an article that goes into more detail about what maternity benefits you are entitled to here.