Do the sums add up?

“Is it worthwhile my client taking a job at the national minimum
wage for 30 hours a week or is he better off staying on benefits?”;
“Should my client come off incapacity benefit if he finds a job and
then claim tax credits or should he use the permitted work

First, there are the various interacting factors to take into
account: possible wages; housing and council tax costs; child care
arrangements and so on.

The second consideration is the payment of tax credits. Even
using sophisticated computer software, tax credit estimates are
little more than a lottery.

This is partly down to Inland Revenue incompetence, where they
award the wrong amount even when given the right information, and
partly because IR processes can throw out the most carefully
calculated estimate.

The adviser’s prediction of tax credit will often be wildly
inaccurate because the IR begins recouping a previous alleged
“overpayment” once the person starts work.

If people budget on getting £70 a week extra from tax
credits, based on estimated wages, but only receive £20, then
paid work can become deeply unattractive.

So, it is essential that you try to find out the following
information before they make a decision:

  • List each benefit, the amount and to whom paid.
  • How long has the person had each of these benefits?
  • Any reductions of benefit for social fund, overpayments or
  • List any other income and capital.
  • Check family and housing details including non-dependants.
  • Check amounts of all housing costs.
  • Check ages of all in the household.
  • Are there children in education? At what level?
  • Who is ill or disabled and what is the illness or
  • Is the client eligible for any council tax discounts or
  • Check for both client and partner where there is one.
  • What type of work, start date, hours?
  • What is gross and net pay?
  • What gross income did the claimant have in the last tax
  • Any child care costs?
  • Do they fit into working tax credit rules?
  • Do they receive maintenance? If not, can they claim it?
  • Does the client need help with health costs?
  • Does the client need help with school meals or other education
  • Will the new job involve additional costs, such as travel?
  • Does the new job involve any duties that may indicate lower
    care or mobility needs for people on disabled living
  • Check whether the client is entitled to any job grant or other

A welfare benefits adviser will then be able to have a stab at
estimating what the person’s income will be in-work compared with
what it is on benefits.

But with so many variables to take into account – it’s not
surprising that many claimants remain unconvinced and sceptical
about being “better-off” in practice.

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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