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
    rules?”

    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
      arrears?
    • 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
      disability?
    • Is the client eligible for any council tax discounts or
      reductions?
    • 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
      year?
    • 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
      costs?
    • 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
      allowance?
    • Check whether the client is entitled to any job grant or other
      help.

    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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