What benefits are young parents in care entitled to, asks Gary Vaux
There is a difference of opinion among the social work staff in my authority as to whether young parents aged 16 or 17 who are also looked-after by the local authority are entitled to benefits. I think that they may claim income support, child benefit, Sure Start maternity grant and child tax credit – is that right?e_SDRq
This is a good example of the sort of question that I occasionally get asked via this column and illustrates those borderline areas within social security and social welfare law where it’s easy for claimants – and social workers – to be given wrong or incomplete information.
The fundamental principle for looked-after young people aged under 18 is that they sit outside of the means-tested benefit system – they are unable to get jobseekers allowance and housing benefit at all and have few rights to income support or the means-tested version of the employment and support allowance.
But it is not a blanket ban – a looked-after 16 to 17-year-old who has a child of their own living with them can access income support. One who has a “limited capacity for work”, due to ill-health or disability (even on a temporary basis as a result of their pregnancy) can claim employment and support allowance (ESA).
The latter entitlement can extend to young people still in education. It is a constant frustration in fact, to be asked about the benefit entitlement of 18-year-olds coming out of care and to find that not only has the disability living allowance (DLA) sometimes been overlooked, but the young person has been denied employment and support allowance (or its predecessor, income support) of almost £100 a week for around two years.
The same principle applies to young parents. A 16-17-year-old who has her child living with her can claim child benefit, even if both mother and child are looked-after. This is possible for the same reason that a parent can claim child benefit for a young person who comes home on trial, even if still looked-after. What matters in these cases is whether the child is living with their parent, not the child’s legal status. And don’t forget that child benefit has no lower age limit.
The young parent who is aged 16 or 17 can also claim child tax credit for their child, income support for themselves and possibly the £500 Sure Start maternity grant (so long as getting a qualifying benefit such as income support or child tax credit within three months of the child being born). This is irrespective of the baby’s legal status (ie whether also looked-after or not) and whether the young parent is in education or not – the crucial fact is whether the baby remains with the parent.
The Department for Work and Pensions and Revenue and Customs does not differentiate between people living in residential units and those living elsewhere, such as fostering or independently, when it comes to which benefits are payable and how much (apart from DLA if in payment for a mother or child with a disability).
If the young woman is aged 16-17 and has left non-advanced education (school or equivalent), they would be eligible for income support from the 29th week of pregnancy. If still in non-advanced education, the young woman cannot claim income support until the child is born.
Gary Vaux is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Please send any questions for him to firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is published in the 1 July issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Benefits for teenage parents who are also being looked after