Maternity grants and support for new parents

Including Healthy Start food vouchers

Having children is expensive – the first year alone could reportedly cost a family in the UK an average of £6,000. But some parents can get a maternity grant worth at least £500 from the Government, no strings attached, to help with the cost. Plus, you may also qualify for help towards the cost of your food bill. 

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What is a maternity grant and who qualifies?

You'll usually be eligible for a maternity grant if you're having a child (or adopting or becoming a surrogate parent) for the first time. You or your partner will also need to be receiving certain benefits.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the payment is a one-off 'Sure Start Maternity Grant'. In Scotland, it's called the 'Best Start Grant' and is made up of three separate payments: the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, the Early Learning Payment and the School Age Payment.

You can claim the grant from 11 weeks before your baby is due (or in Scotland, 15 weeks before) and up to six months after your baby's born. In the case of adoption or surrogacy, you have until your baby turns one to make the claim.

If you already have a child under 16 you may also be able to get the grant, provided you live in Scotland, or live elsewhere in the UK and are now expecting twins or triplets.

In all cases, you must be claiming at least one of these benefits to qualify:

  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income support
  • Pension credit
  • Child tax credit
  • Working tax credit that includes a disability or severe disability element
  • Universal credit

You may also qualify if you're getting a Support for Mortgage Interest loan, so it's worth applying for the grant and seeing if you're successful if you fall into this category.

How much is the maternity grant?

If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Sure Start Maternity Grant is a one-off payment. In Scotland, you get a Pregnancy and Baby Payment, which is the first part of the Best Start Grant.

How much maternity grant could you get?

  England, Wales & Northern Ireland Scotland
First child £500 £642.35
First child and you're having twins £1,000 £1,284.75
Already have a child/children under 16 and now expecting another child (not twins/triplets)
£0 £321.20
Already have a child/children under 16 and now expecting twins £500 (1) £963.60
Already have a child/children under 16 and now expecting triplets £1,000 (2) £1,284.75

(1) This only applies if you haven't already had twins or triplets. (2) This only applies if you haven't already had triplets; if you've already had twins and are now having triplets, you can get a £500 grant.

How do I apply for the maternity grant?

How you apply differs depending on which UK country you live in:

  • In England or Wales. Print and fill in this application form and get your doctor or midwife to fill in the statement on page 10.

    It's a good idea to ask them to do this as soon as possible – you can do it from when you're 29 weeks pregnant. So you could take the form as part of your routine 31-week antenatal check-up.

    The form is straightforward, but sorting paperwork once your newborn has arrived probably won't be at the top of your priorities, and you've only got until your baby is six months old to apply. You can send the form off without your health professional's statement if you think you'll miss the cut-off, but you won't receive the payment until the statement has been completed.

    You can post the form to 'Freepost DWP SSMG' – you don't need a postcode or a stamp.

    If you need help with your claim, you can call the Sure Start Maternity Grant helpline on 0800 169 0140 or contact Jobcentre Plus.

  • In Scotland. You can apply online, by phone on 0800 182 2222 or send a printed form by post to:

    Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, PO Box 10300, Dundee, DD1 9FU

  • In Northern Ireland. You'll need to print and complete this form. Then send it to:

    Sure Start Maternity Grants, Mail Opening Unit, PO Box 42, Limavady, BT49 4AN

    If you need help with your claim, you can call the Sure Start Maternity Grant helpline on 0800 022 4250.

How is the maternity grant paid to me?

Once your claim's been received, you'll get a letter telling you if it has been successful. If so, the money will be paid into your bank account within two to three weeks. Note that if you get universal credit, you won't get a decision on your claim until after you receive your next payment.

What if my maternity grant application is turned down? Can I appeal?

If you weren't successful, you can challenge the decision. In Scotland, there will be details on your letter about how to do this.

Quick questions

  • Can I get the maternity grant for a second child?

    If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, already have a child (or children) under 16, and are receiving one of the benefits mentioned above, you can usually apply for the grant if second time round you're expecting twins or triplets.

    You'll get £500 for twins (unless you've already had twins or triplets, in which case you aren't entitled to the grant), and £1,000 if it's triplets (unless you've already had triplets, in which case you aren't entitled to the grant; if you've already had twins and are now having triplets, you can get a grant of £500).

    In Scotland, you can get the maternity grant for every child you have, but the amount you get is more if it's your first: £642.35 for your first child and £321.20 for each child after that.

  • Do I qualify for a maternity grant if I'm adopting?

    You may also be able to get the grant if you're adopting or becoming a surrogate parent.

    The baby must be younger than one year old on the date you claim, you must be receiving one of the benefits mentioned above, and one of the following must also apply:

    • You've become responsible for the baby and you're not the mother.
    • The baby has been placed with you for adoption.
    • You've got permission to adopt a baby from abroad.
    • You've got a parental order for a surrogate birth.
    • You've been appointed as guardian.
    • You've an adoption or a residence order.
  • Can I use the money for anything I like?

    Yes. The money is to help pay for the costs of having a baby or young child, such as buying nappies, baby clothes, a cot. 

    But no one is going to check if you actually spend it on these items or something else. 

  • Can I get the maternity grant if I work?

    Yes. You can get the £500 maternity grant (or the Scottish equivalent) as long as you're claiming at least one of the benefits listed above and you're expecting your first child (or your second is twins or triplets).

  • Will the grant count towards my income for benefits?

    No. It will not affect your other benefits or tax credits and as it's a grant, you don't need to pay it back.

  • What happens if I have a stillbirth?

    You can still get the maternity grant for a baby that was stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy, or if the baby died after they were born.

    If you're paid when you're pregnant, and your baby is stillborn or dies later, you won't need to pay any money back.

    You can still apply up to three months after the baby's birth date (or up to six months after in Scotland).

    This won't count as your first child and you'll still be eligible to apply for the grant again, if you have a successful pregnancy in the future.

    If you're employed, you may also be entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay and leave.

  • How does it work if I'm a parent aged under 20?

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, if you're under 20 years old and expecting your first baby, your parent (in other words, the baby's grandparent) can apply for the maternity grant on your behalf, as long as they're already claiming one of the qualifying benefits for you.

    In Scotland, if you're under 18, you don't need to be getting any benefits to get the Best Start Grant. If you're 18 or 19 but don't get any benefits, you can still apply for the Best Start Grant if your parent or carer gets one of these benefits for you:

    • The 'child addition' part of pension credit
    • Child benefit
    • Child tax credit
    • Universal credit child payments

In Scotland you can get two extra payments as your child gets older

If you live in Scotland and are getting certain benefits or tax credits, you can claim the Best Start Grant. This is made up of three separate payments – and you can get all three for each of your children:

  • The Baby and Pregnancy Payment. This is as explained above

  • The Early Learning Payment. This is £267.65 a child. Your child needs to be aged between two and three-and-a-half when you apply, but they don't need to be attending nursery.

  • The School Age Payment. This is another £267.65, paid when your child is about to start primary school. These payments are to help with items and activities such as clothes, toys and outings.

If you qualify for Scottish Child Payment, you'll receive the Early Learning and School Age Payments automatically, so you don't need to apply.

However, there are a small number of parents who aren't eligible for Scottish Child Payment, but are eligible for the Early Learning and School Age Payments. If you think that's you, check you're eligible and apply online or call Social Security Scotland on 0800 182 2222.

Scottish Child Payment

On top of the Best Start Grant, if you're a Scottish resident and claiming one of the income benefits listed in this guide, you can also apply for the Scottish Child Payment. This is £25 a week for every child you look after who's under 16 years old. If your claim is successful, you'll get the payment every four weeks until your child turns 16. 
 
You can apply for three schemes: the Scottish Child Payment, Best Start Grant and another called  Best Start Foods  using the  same form .

All newborn babies in Scotland get a free box full of essentials

The Scottish baby box comes compete with a mattress and bedding and can be used as a moses basket that your wee one can sleep in. Inside you'll also find clothes, a bath towel, muslin squares, a toy, a book and more. To sign up for your baby box, speak to your midwife – see full details.

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You may also be eligible for a Healthy Start food card

The Healthy Start scheme (Best Start Foods in Scotland) was introduced by the Government to help low income families buy nutritious food and milk for their children.

The prepaid card is worth between £4.25 and £9 per week, depending on where you live and the age of your child (see table below for details). It can be used in over 30,000 shops in the UK to buy any of the following:

  • Plain cow's milk
  • Infant formula milk
  • Fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and veg
  • Fresh, dried or tinned pulses, such as lentils, beans, peas and barley

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can also get free vitamin supplements during pregnancy and while your child is under one, plus vitamins for your child(ren) until their fourth birthday. Ask your GP or midwife for more information about how to claim these.

Who qualifies for the Healthy Start food card?

Who's eligible and how you apply differs depending on where in the UK you live:

  • Live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland? You can apply for the Healthy Start scheme if have at least one child under four years old (or are at least 10 weeks pregnant) AND you or your partner receive any of the following benefits:

    - Child tax credits (only if your family's annual income is £16,190 or less)
    - Income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)
    - Income support
    - Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    - Pension credit
    - Universal credit (but only if your family earns £408 or less a month from employment)

    It's worth noting that if you're getting income-related ESA, you'll only be eligible for the vouchers while you're pregnant, not once your baby is born. To continue receiving them, you'll need to switch to universal credit.

  • Live in Scotland? You can apply for the Best Start Foods scheme if you have a child under three years old (or are pregnant) AND you or your partner get any of the following benefits:

    - Child tax credits and working tax credits (income from work must be less than £7,920 a year)
    - Child tax credits (household income must be £17,005 a year or less)
    - Housing benefit (household income from work must be less than £328 a week)
    - Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    - Income-related employment and support allowance
    - Income support
    - Pension credit
    - Universal credit (household income from work must be £660 a month or less)

You'll also be eligible for the Healthy Start or Best Start scheme if you're pregnant and under 18, even if you don't receive any benefits.

How much help can I get?

How much help towards healthy food and milk you can get depends on where you live and how old your child is:

Healthy Start food card

When are you eligible? How much you'll get
From the 10th week of your pregnancy (or from week one of your pregnancy in Scotland) £17 (£18 in Scotland) every four weeks

From when your child is born until they are one year old

£34 (£36 in Scotland) every four weeks

For children between one and four years old (until three years old in Scotland)

£17 (£18 in Scotland) every four weeks

How to use your Healthy Start prepaid card

Healthy Start paper vouchers have now been replaced by a prepaid card. The card is automatically be topped up every four weeks with your payment, and any money you don't spend will remain on your card for 16 weeks. Once you've received your card and PIN, you need to activate it by calling 0300 330 2090.

Prepaid cards are also used in Scotland – register it by calling 0808 196 1687.

You can use your card in most places that sell milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables. If you have a card, look out for the Mastercard logo, normally on the shop door or at the till, to see where it's accepted. Generally you'll be able to use vouchers and cards at:

  • Supermarkets
  • Convenience stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Newsagents
  • Butchers
  • Petrol stations 

In Scotland, you can also use the Best Start Foods card for online supermarket orders.

You'll stop receiving the vouchers once your child turns four (or three in Scotland), or if you stop receiving benefits.

What to do if you have issues applying

If you're in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and are having difficulties applying online using the link above, call 0300 330 7010. But be warned – it costs 55p a minute and we've heard of long wait times.

If you're in Scotland and need help with your application, call 0800 182 2222.

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