Families, coronavirus and benefits
This briefing explains changes to provisions for families with young children as a result of the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The briefing will be updated as further information becomes available.
This briefing covers:
Free school meals
During the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), schools will continue to provide free school meals to children who are already eligible for this support. If your child is not already eligible for free school meals, but your income has gone down, your child may now become eligible, and you can make a new application to your school or local authority. The support provided differs in each country of the UK.
Who is entitled to free school meals?
Universal credit
For families on universal credit (UC), eligibility depends on levels of earned income. Your child may be eligible if you have recently claimed UC, or, if you already get UC and your earnings have just gone down, your child may become eligible for free school meals at the end of your current monthly assessment period.
In England and Wales your child is likely to be eligible if your earnings (take home pay) are not more than £616.67 per month. In Scotland, your child will be eligible if your monthly earned income is not more than £610.
Tax credits
For families on tax credits, eligibility for free school meals depends on the estimate of annual income used by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Your child will be eligible if you receive child tax credit, you are not also entitled to working tax credit, and you have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190 in England and Wales, or £16,385 in Scotland.
In England and Wales your child will also be entitled to free school meals if you are receiving the working tax credit run-on after you have stopped working. In Scotland your child will also be eligible if you receive both child tax credit and working tax credit and your annual income is less than £6,900.
Other benefits
Throughout the UK, your child is eligible for free school meals if you receive:
income support
income-based jobseeker’s allowance
income-related employment and support allowance
support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
(except in Scotland) the guaranteed element of pension credit
Your child may also be able to receive free school meals even if you cannot get any of these benefits because of your immigration status. In England, there is a temporary extension for children in some families who have no recourse to public funds and income no more than £2,625 per month within London or £2,350 outside London after tax. In Scotland, local authorities have discretion to provide free school meals if you are in hardship due to your immigration status.
Free school meals during the COVID-19 outbreak
Entitlement to free school meals during the COVID-19 outbreak
Your child continues to be eligible for a free school meal during COVID-19, either at school or delivered to your home, if
S/he is still attending school (eg. because you are a key worker) and was previously entitled to free school meals either because s/he is in the first 3 years of primary school or due to your low income, or
S/he is not currently attending school but s/he was previously entitled to free school meals due to your low income, or
S/he is not currently attending school, s/he was previously receiving free school meals because s/he is in the first 3 years of primary school, but you are also on a low income. If you are not sure whether s/he is eligible for free school meals due to your low income, the school will know that you qualify if you have received a school clothing grant. Free school meals are not being universally supplied to all children in the first three years of primary school while they are at home.
If your child was not previously receiving free school meals, s/he may be entitled if your income has gone down and you have claimed one of the benefits listed above. For example, if you have claimed UC and your earnings are less than the limit in your first UC assessment period, your child will be entitled to a free school meal.
If you are not sure whether you qualify, contact your child’s school or apply to your local authority. The government is still considering options for breakfast clubs and holiday provision.
Provision of free school meals during the COVID-19 outbreak
In partnership with catering providers or local charities, some schools are continuing to make free school meals available to eligible pupils who are not able to attend school due to COVID-19 by either collection or delivery.
Alternatively, schools can provide supermarket vouchers worth £15 a week per child. The school can provide this to you as:
an ‘eCode’, if you have an email address and access to the internet, for you to obtain a voucher to use on your phone or tablet at one of six main supermarkets
a posted printer voucher for a particular supermarket, if you don’t have access to the internet
If you cannot access the supermarkets at which the voucher can be used, the school should continue providing meals by collection or delivery.
The voucher scheme was launched on 31 March 2020. If your child is already eligible for free school meals, you don’t need to do anything to receive the vouchers. If you have not heard anything about free school meals while your child is at home, contact your school.
The government has announced that children entitled to free school meals will receive a six-week food voucher over the summer holidays.
Wales
The Welsh government has committed to providing free school meals for eligible children who are at home due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The government has also said that the provision of free school meals should continue outside term time to cover the Easter holiday break, providing support while the national voucher scheme is developed. There are three immediate options for schools:
provision of vouchers (worth £19.50 a week per child)
delivery of food parcels
payment into bank account
The Welsh government has confirmed that free school meal provision will continue over the summer holidays.
Scotland
The Scottish government has committed to providing free school meals for eligible children who are at home due to COVID-19. Currently, access is being provided by local authorities. Some are providing payments direct to parents, or supermarket vouchers, and some are working in partnership with local charities that are making food parcels available for collection or delivery. The Scottish government has also established a Food Fund so that local authorities can provide support for household members other than children and young people.
The Scottish government has confirmed that free school meal provision will continue over the summer holidays.
Healthy Start vouchers/Best Start Foods
The Healthy Start scheme in England and Wales provides vouchers for low-income families to spend on milk, fruit and vegetables. The scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and to parents of children who have not yet reached four years old. Until the child is one year old, the vouchers are worth £6.20 a week. During pregnancy and after the child is one, the vouchers are worth £3.10 a week.
The Best Start Foods scheme in Scotland provides a payment card for low-income families to spend on milk, fruit, vegetables, pulses or eggs. The scheme provides £8.50 a week until a child reaches one year old, and £4.25 a week during pregnancy and for each child aged 1–2 years old.
If you are already getting Healthy Start vouchers or Best Start Foods, this support will continue to be provided.
If your income has gone down, you may now be eligible for Healthy Start or Best Start Foods. For families on UC, eligibility depends on earnings during your most recent assessment period. If you have recently claimed UC or your earnings have just gone down, you may be entitled to this support at the end of your current monthly assessment period. For families on tax credits, entitlement depends on the estimate of annual income used by HMRC.
Maternity grants and other payments for families with young children
This support is available to families receiving any amount of UC or tax credits, regardless of other income or earnings. If you have recently claimed UC, and you or your partner has had a child within the last six months, or if you have a child in the right age range in Scotland, you may qualify for this help now.
In England and Wales, a Sure Start Maternity Grant of £500 is available to families during pregnancy or within six months of birth, or within a year if responsibility has been taken on for a baby under other circumstances. The Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) is not usually available if there is another child younger than 16 years old in your family. The DWP says that you do not need to get a health professional to sign the SSMG application (as stated on the form), it will contact you if other evidence is required.
The Best Start scheme in Scotland also includes grants. Best Start Grants include:
a pregnancy and baby payment, during pregnancy or within six months of birth, or within a year if someone has taken on the responsibility for a baby in other circumstances
an early learning payment for children aged two years to three years and six months
a school age payment, which will be available from 1 June 2020 for children born from 1 March 2015 to 29 February 2016
If your claim for a Best Start Grant is late, it can be treated as if it was made in time if you missed the deadline due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Even if you previously looked into or applied for these grants and you were not entitled because you were not getting a qualifying benefit, you may still be able to qualify for a grant now if you have claimed UC because your income has gone down. If you are still waiting to hear about UC, you should still claim these payments within the age limits.
Childcare costs and provision
During the lockdown, registered childcare has only been available for the children of key workers and vulnerable families and childminders are only allowed to care for children from one household (or in Scotland, two households).
From 1 June it is expected that childcare providers will be able to open for all children in England.
If you are still paying for childcare that is not currently being provided due to COVID-19, speak to your childcare provider to see if they will reduce or waive their fees.
Working tax credit
You are still entitled to working tax credit (WTC) if you have temporarily stopped working (on furlough) or reduced your hours due to coronavirus, as long as you are still employed or self-employed. If you are already getting WTC and your child is still receiving childcare, you can continue to get help with childcare costs.
Stopped paying for childcare
If you have stopped paying childcare costs or you are no longer employed or self-employed, there is a four week run-on in which you remain entitled to the amount of the WTC childcare element you were getting.
Paying a retainer for childcare that is not being provided
If you are still paying your registered childcare provider but childcare has not been provided for more than four weeks, HMRC has not published updated guidance on this situation yet. For example, if your childcare provider has asked you to pay, say, half your regular fees while your child is at home as a retainer to keep the place, and you will still have to pay in full when your child is able to attend again, the childcare element in WTC can continue for at least four weeks. After four weeks, contact HMRC to report the change in circumstances and ask it whether the childcare element can continue.
Paying in advance for childcare
The childcare element can continue if you are paying in advance for childcare that will be provided in future. For example, if your childcare provider has asked you to continue paying, say, half your regular fees while your child is at home, but has said that you will then get a 50 per cent reduction on the fees when your child is able to attend again in future, this can still be covered by the childcare element in WTC. You must report the change in the amount you are paying.
Universal credit (UC)
You are only entitled to the childcare element of UC if you have some earnings in the current or previous assessment period, or an offer to start work in the next assessment period. You must have paid childcare costs and can then get reimbursed at 85 per cent of your actual costs, within limits. If you are already getting or have claimed UC and are paying for childcare that is still being provided, you should continue to report this in the usual way.
Stopped paying for childcare
If you have stopped paying childcare costs, you cannot get a childcare element included in UC. There is no run-on of the childcare element in UC.
Paying a retainer for childcare that is not being provided
If you are still paying but childcare is not being provided, you cannot get a childcare element in UC. For example, if your childcare provider has asked you to pay, say, half your regular fees while your child is at home as a retainer to keep the place, and you will still have to pay in full when your child is able to attend again, you will not be entitled to the childcare element in UC until your child actually attends the childcare place again.
Paying in advance for childcare
The childcare element can be included if you pay childcare costs for childcare that will be provided within the next two assessment periods – but it will only be included in the assessment period in which the childcare is actually provided. For example, your childcare provider has asked you to continue paying, say, half your regular fees while your child is at home during April and May, but has said that you will then get a 50 per cent reduction on the fees when your child is able to attend again in June and July. In this case, you are actually paying in advance, so 85 per cent of the full cost of childcare can be included in your UC assessment periods for June and July.
Free childcare
Government funded childcare is different depending on where you live.
If you receive 15 or 30 hours of free childcare, or tax free childcare, payment for this will continue to be made to your childcare provider by the government even if childcare is not being provided due to COVID-19.
The 30 hours entitlement has been temporarily extended over the summer vacation (ie. outside term time). The deadline to apply for or re-confirm a childcare place has also been extended to 31 August 2020, including if you missed the original deadline of 31 March.
You will remain eligible even if your earnings have temporarily reduced to below the limit due to COVID-19.
If you were already enrolled for 30 hours free childcare before 18 March, this funding will continue, however new applications have been suspended for 3 months from 1 April to 1 July.
Childcare is currently only being provided to the children of key workers and vulnerable children. These families are able to access funded childcare under a new scheme, with no limit to the number of hours.
16 hours free childcare places continue, but the extension to 30 hours from August has been put on hold.
WARNING:If you get WTC or UC, do not be tempted to apply for ‘tax-free childcare’ because that will leave you worse off if you are on a low income.
Furloughed workers
If you were an employee paid through PAYE on 19 March 2020 and have had to stop working because your childcare provider is closed and you are looking after your children, you can ask your employer to put you ‘on furlough'. This option is provided by the government’s Job Retention Scheme. If you were in work but have been laid off by your employer since 28 February, you will be eligible if your employer agrees to rehire you. Under the scheme you would broadly receive at least 80 per cent of your wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Your employer can then reclaim your wages from the government. Since your employer has to apply to this scheme on your behalf, you should speak to your employer about going on furlough. Find out if you are eligible.
Key workers
If you are a key worker, a childcare place should be provided so that you can continue in your work.
Government guidance for England says childcare providers must close and should remain open only if they are caring for vulnerable children or the children of key workers (now due to reopen from 01 June for everyone). Local authorities and childcare providers should pool resources to provide places for key workers who would otherwise be unable to work.
Welsh government guidance says every child who can be safely cared for at home should be. Only the children of key workers and vulnerable children should be attending childcare venues. Due to crucial social distancing requirements, that will mean spreading the provision of childcare over a large number of venues.
Scottish government guidance says local authorities will make provision for children of key workers in their areas where this is absolutely necessary to ensure that parents/carers with no other option for childcare can continue to work in their role of delivering essential services.
Statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance
If you are pregnant and your employer has put you on furlough with reduced earnings under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, you will be entitled to the same amount of statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance as you would have been had you not been put on furlough. The rules on calculating normal weekly earnings for these benefits have changed so that they take into account what you would have earned had you not been on furlough, rather than the 80% figure that you may be receiving as a furloughed worker.