Who can get it, how much you get and how to claim
Child benefit is a monthly payment for anyone with parental responsibilities for children under the age of 16. It's worth claiming if you aren't already, as it can be worth over £17,000 over the years – or more if you've two or more children.
A recent MSE investigation has revealed that more than 200,000 families risk missing out on £1,000s from their future state pension because the 'wrong' parent is claiming child benefit, read the full story here.
In this guide
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Child benefit is the Government's way of acknowledging the costs involved in raising a child. It's paid monthly to anyone responsible for children under the age of 16 (or under 20 if they stay in approved full-time education or unpaid training). You can also get child benefit for an extra 20 weeks in some circumstances (for example, if your child joins the armed forces).
You'll usually qualify for child benefit if the child you're applying for lives with you, or if you're paying at least the same weekly amount as the benefit towards looking after them. For example, you might pay for clothes, food, pocket money or birthday and Christmas gifts. This includes grandparents, adoptive parents and some foster parents.
If two people are responsible for the same child, only one will get the payment. Parents can decide between themselves who receives it – otherwise, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will decide. HMRC will give the child benefit to the parent the child lives with the most.
By claiming child benefit, you will also earn national insurance credits, which count towards your state pension. You need 30 years' worth of national insurance credits to receive the full state pension, so this is especially important if one of you is a non-earner or earns less than £118 a week - the amount you need to get national insurance credits.
If you are not working or earning under £118, claiming child benefit effectively lets you earn national insurance credits you wouldn't have otherwise have earned. HMRC reckons 200,000 parents are losing out in this way because their partner with a higher income, not them, is registered for child benefit.
You can claim child benefit as soon as you've registered the birth or the child has come to live with you. It can take up to 12 weeks to process your claim and can only be backdated three months.
The 2019/20 tax year is the last year of a four-year rate freeze. There are two weekly child benefit rates:
- For a first-born or only child: £20.70
- For additional children: £13.70 per child
This applies even for a multiple birth, so if you have twins born within minutes of each other, you'll still get different amounts for them.
While it may not look like a lot of money broken down, it adds up. If you claim for one child until they're 16, this rate amounts to £17,222 over their childhood.
If you've a bigger brood, the individual amount you get for your second and subsequent children will be lower, but the total will be higher. For example, assuming today's rates don't change, if you've two children, the amount for the elder will be £17,222, and the amount for the younger will be £11,398 – a combined £28,620 over their childhoods.
You'll usually be paid once a month, and the whole amount must go into the same account. It can't be split between parents.
Child benefit is affected by the benefit cap. This sets the maximum yearly total you can get on benefits. What you get depends on where you live and your circumstances (eg, a single parent living with children is limited to £20,000 a year outside London but for the same situation it's capped at £23,000 in the capital). So if you're close to your limit and claim child benefit, your award may be capped, but there are exceptions.
If a family breaks up, the child benefit will usually go to the resident parent, eg, the parent the child lives with most. They'll get the normal rates (£20.70/week for the eldest and £13.70/week for additional children).
If you've two children and one of them stays mostly with you, and the other stays mainly with your ex-partner, you can both claim and receive £20.70/week for each child.
Individually, if you (or your partner) have an income of £50,000 or more a year and your household's receiving child benefit, the person with the 'high income' may have to pay a tax charge – a sliding amount known as the 'high income child benefit charge'.
This means for every £100 you receive above £50,000, you'll pay back 1% of the maximum amount of child benefit you're entitled to. So if you get £55,000, you'll pay back 50%. Once you have £60,000 or more coming in, the charge you'll pay back is 100% of your entitlement, essentially meaning you won't get any benefit.
If you or your partner, or you both, receive income above this threshold, the one getting the most MUST fill in a self-assessment tax return – even if you're already paying tax via your employer in the pay-as-you-earn system. Bear in mind that income doesn't just mean earnings. It can be made up of other revenues, eg, maintenance or rental income.
You'll also have to pay the charge if someone else is claiming for a child who's living with you – as long as they pay at least the equivalent of the weekly amount of child benefit towards taking care of them. This can be in cash or in kind, eg, food, presents and clothing.
If you're not sure if you're liable to pay the tax charge, use the Government's Child Benefit Tax Calculator to see if, and how much, you have to pay.
You'll have to register for self-assessment and send in a tax return every year. If you're not sure you've enough income to pay the charge, it's probably a good idea to register anyway.
If you don't know if your partner is receiving child benefit, or has a higher adjusted income than you, eg, because you live apart or have separated, you can write to HMRC and ask. It will just tell you "yes" or "no" – you won't get any financial details. You can only do this for a former partner if your relationship ended within a year of the tax year you want information for.
If you've had a change of circumstance, or you're unsure whether you're eligible for child benefit or liable for the high income benefit charge, get in touch with HMRC directly on 0300 200 3100.
Even if your income is above £50,000, you might be able to swerve the charge. That's because it's based on your 'adjusted income' – so if you pay any tax-deductible expenses or make pre-tax pension contributions, these might take you below the threshold, or at least lower how much you may have to pay. For example...
Peter earns £52,000 a year, but 7% of his pre-tax income (£3,640) is used to make pension contributions. To see if Peter needs to pay the tax charge, we need to deduct £3,640 from his actual salary – leaving £48,360. In this case, Peter's pension contributions take him below the threshold, so he won't need to pay the tax charge.
If Peter wasn't making any pension contributions, he'd have to pay the charge, as his before-tax income would be over the threshold.
If you're thinking of claiming and worry you may need to pay the tax charge, you could keep the money in a separate savings account. That way, you'll be covered if you need to pay the charge and anything you get to keep is a bonus. You'll also earn interest on the money. See our Top Savings Accounts guide for more details.
If you or your partner has an income of £60,000 or more, it's still worthwhile filling in the child benefit form and registering your entitlement – even if you opt out of actually receiving the benefit itself. Doing so has several advantages:
- You'll get national insurance credits, which count towards your state pension. You need 30 years' worth of national insurance credits to receive the full state pension, so this is especially important if one of you is a non-earner or makes less than £166 a week (which is when you'd start to pay national insurance contributions). HMRC reckons 200,000 parents are losing out in this way because their partner with a higher income, not them, is registered for child benefit.
- It will ensure your child is registered to receive a national insurance number shortly before they turn 16.
HMRC has refunded £1.8m in fines over 'failure to notify' fees
HMRC has issued refunds worth £1.8 million to almost 5,000 families who were issued so-called 'failure to notify' penalties for the tax years 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16.
When the high income benefit charge was introduced in 2013, many parents with an income of more than £50,000 weren't aware that they had to notify HMRC that they earned enough to pay the tax charge, and, as a result, were charged the penalty fees.
Anyone who was due a refund has now received it. Read more about this in our MSE News story.
You can claim child benefit as soon as you've registered the birth of your child, or a child comes to live with you.
You'll have to fill in the 'CH2' form and send it to the child benefit office. You can find the address on the form, which you can download from Gov.uk.
If you adopted your child, you need to send their original adoption certificate with the form. If you've lost it, you can order a new one.
If your child's birth was registered in Northern Ireland or outside the UK, you need to provide your child's original birth certificate. If you've lost the birth certificate, you can order a new one. If the birth was registered outside the UK, you'll also need to provide the passport used for your child to enter the UK.
- Your child is up to six months old
- Your child was born in the UK
- You live in England, Scotland or Wales and registered the birth there
If you don't meet this criteria you'll have to apply for child benefit by using the CH2 form and send it to the child benefit office. If you're claiming for more than two children, you'll also need to send the 'additional children' form.
If you contribute at least the weekly value of child benefit towards taking care of a child, you could claim for them. Being eligible to claim doesn't mean you'll be successful. If you and the parent claim, HMRC will decide who gets the payment – it will usually go to the person the child lives with the most.
If you're taking care of the children of two parents who have died (or in certain circumstances where one surviving parent is unable to care for the child), you may also be eligible for guardian's allowance. It's £17.20 a week which you get on top of child benefit.
If your child goes to live with someone else, you'll continue to get child benefit for eight weeks (maybe longer if you pay towards taking care of your child), unless someone else also claims.
You need to tell the child benefit office if this happens. You usually won't be able to get child benefit after the time limits above, but there are exceptions.