What’s less well known is that since 2013 child benefit has been means-tested but, craftily, the coalition government added the test in such a way that the money is clawed back as a tax charge, rather than lowered at the outset.
So you get the full payment, then have to pay none, some or all of it back a year later. Like I said, crafty.
Here’s how it works. The entitlement starts to fall as soon as either parent earns over £50,000 and disappears altogether as soon as one income hits £60,000 – or rather your tax bill will wipe out every pound you received (and probably already spent on violin lessons and a new pony).
Before I go off on a fruitless rant on just how stupid this “tapering” is, let me tell you the (sort of) good news.
If you or your partner’s income has dropped below £50,000 because you’ve lost your job or are on furlough then you can reclaim the child benefit you were too wealthy to qualify for before.
Use this form to claim – you don’t need a birth certificate if the pandemic has prevented you from getting one. True, it won’t replace your lost income, but for three children you could be reclaiming as much as £600 for the three months you can backdate for.
Taking time off for childcare
In more good news, the Government has clarified that any furloughed worker about to go on parental or adoption leave will receive the pay they would have been entitled to in normal circumstances – that is, their statutory entitlement will be based on their usual salary not their furloughed income.
I’m afraid the self-employed are falling through the net again, though, as any time taken off for parental leave will reduce the amount of state support they can receive.
Initially left out of the Government’s coronavirus scheme, freelancers will now also receive 80pc of their wages, capped at £2,500 a month. Unlike employed workers, however, the 80pc is based on the average of three years of earnings. That means anyone who took time off during those three years – say, to have or look after a baby – will receive far less than they should.
As self-employment is particularly well suited to looking after children this could be a huge number, as many as 600,000 people according to some estimates. Now the scheme has launched, I’m not hopeful that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will change the rules.
The longer the crisis and the lockdown goes on, the more help we will all need. Working Families, a work-life balance charity, has called for more support for working parents, particularly for those who cannot do their normal jobs because of school and nursery closures.
If my parenting skills are anything to go by, the quicker we get the professionals back in charge of the boy’s welfare, the better.