Start and stop

The advice unit that I work for regularly takes phone calls
about benefits when a child becomes looked after. One recent query
concerned a disabled child from a family on income support,
receiving disability living allowance and child benefit.

DLA mobility is unaffected. But DLA care stops after a child is
looked after for 28 days (not necessarily consecutive). Any days of
respite care fewer than 28 days apart are added together. So a
child who goes into respite care for 14 days, then goes home for 14
days, then returns to respite care for another week, will have
clocked up 21 days. Once the 28 days limit is reached, the clock is
only wound back to zero by a stay at home of at least 28 days.
Points to remember here are that:

  • Days which are spent in part at home are counted as full days
    at home. A child who goes into respite care on Friday and returns
    home on Sunday is only away from home for one day.
  • DLA care only stops for the days that the child is away from
    home. For example, if a child goes into respite every Friday to
    Monday, that arrangement could carry on for 14 weeks. After that,
    the family would be due five-sevenths of the DLA care for future
    weeks. If the child then had 28 consecutive days at home and then
    reverted to the original pattern, they could have a further 14
    weeks at full benefit.
  • DLA care remains payable for children who are fostered, without
    the 28-day rule applying.

Child benefit stops after eight weeks of a child being looked
after. However, if the child is home every week for at least 24
hours from midnight to midnight, child benefit can continue.

Irregular stays at home do not count. Child benefit is also paid
for any week when the child is home from Sunday to Sunday, even if
it is irregular.

A child who is looked after “solely because of a disability” can
carry on attracting child benefit for 12 weeks instead of eight.
Social services are supposed to notify the Child Benefit Centre
about children going into or out of care (forms CH193 and CH193D
respectively). The Child Benefit Centre (0870 155 5540) also sends
form CH166A to the local authority when the child benefit claimant
notifies them that a child has been looked after.

In benefit law, though, the onus remains on the claimant to tell
the Child Benefit Centre (and any other social security office). If
they do not, and an overpayment arises, the claimant could try to
argue that they had relied on their social worker to notify on
their behalf, but this line of argument does not always work.

Any income support that the family gets for that child is
stopped immediately that a child is looked after.

From April 2003, income support for children will be abolished
and replaced by child tax credit, administered by the Inland
Revenue. The tax credit will be based on an annual calculation of
income. Awards will normally be fixed for a year. Parents on income
support will get the maximum tax credit. A change such as a child
being looked after will mean that the parent is then overpaid,
unless they notify the Inland Revenue and ask for a recalculation
immediately. If they do not, the tax credit in the following year
will be adjusted to recoup the overpayment.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire
Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If
you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o
Community Care.

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