Families, coronavirus and benefits in Scotland
This briefing explains changes to provisions for families in Scotland due to the coronavirus pandemic. The briefing will be updated as further information becomes available.
This briefing covers:
FREE SCHOOL MEALS
During the coronavirus pandemic, schools will continue to provide free school meals to children who are eligible for this support, including during the summer holidays. Before the outbreak of coronavirus, free school meals were available for all children in primary 1-3 but this is not being provided while they are at home. Free school meals are being provided in school for all primary 1-3 children who are still attending school.
If your child was not previously eligible for free school meals, but your income has gone down, your child may now become eligible, and you can make a new application now to your school or local authority.
IN SCHOOL
Free school meals will continue to be provided in school if your child is still attending school (eg. because you are a key worker and no-one else can look after your child safely at home) and s/he is in the first three years of primary school, or you qualify due to low income (see below).
AT HOME
Free school meals will be provided at home if your child is not currently attending school and you qualify due to low income (see below). If your child is in primary 1-3 and you are not sure whether s/he is eligible for free school meals due to your income, the school will know that you qualify if you have received a school clothing grant.
Local authorities and schools may provide free school meals by:
cash payment, eg, by paying money into your account, as used for school clothing grant;
supermarket vouchers;
meal ingredients parcels with cooking, preparation and storage instructions;
using school premises to act as food preparation and delivery hubs; or
other alternatives better suited to local needs and circumstances.
A combination of these approaches can be used to ensure that children receive free school meals.
OTHER MEMBERS OF THE HOUSEHOLD
The Scottish government has established a £70 million ‘Food Fund’ in partnership with community food projects and local authorities to provide support for other household members, and households without children. This includes food deliveries for the ‘shielded’ groups at highest clinical risk, and food support for older people, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women. To find out more about availability of food support in your area, contact your local authority or the Scottish Government’s free helpline for general advice relating to the coronavirus pandemic: 0800 028 2816.
WHO IS ENTITLED TO FREE SCHOOL MEALS DUE TO LOW INCOME?
Note: If you need to make a new claim for benefits, it will usually be universal credit, as it is not possible in most cases to make a new claim for tax credits or the other benefits mentioned below.
Universal credit
For families on universal credit (UC), eligibility depends on the level of your monthly 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. Earnings include furlough pay and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
Your child will be eligible if your earned income in the assessment period before you apply is not more than £610. If you are part of a couple, your joint earnings must not exceed this amount.
Tax credits
For families on tax credits, eligibility for free school meals depends on the estimate of your annual income used by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Your child is eligible for free school meals if you receive child tax credit, but you are not also entitled to working tax credit, and you have an annual gross income of no more than £16,385. If you are entitled to both child tax credit and working tax credit, your child will be eligible if your annual income is less than £6,900. Income includes furlough pay and the self-employed income support scheme. If you are part of a couple, your joint income must not exceed these limits.
If you expect your income in 2020/21 to go down, you should provide an estimate so that HMRC can use this figure for your 2020/21 tax credits award.
Other benefits
Your child is also eligible for free school meals if you receive:
income support;
income-based jobseeker’s allowance; or
income-related employment and support allowance.
If you receive pension credit which includes a child element, this is the equivalent of these benefits or child tax credit, and local authorities have discretion to provide free school meals in this case.
IMMIGRATION STATUS
Your child is entitled to free school meals if you are an asylum seeker receiving asylum support. If you have been granted refugee status, you can qualify by claiming universal 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, for example if you have no recourse to public funds or you are a European national and have been turned down for these benefits. The Scottish Government allows local authorities discretion to provide free school meals if you are in hardship due to your immigration status.
SCHOOL CLOTHING GRANT
A school clothing grant may be payable for children in families on low incomes, usually under similar criteria as free school meals. Local authorities have discretion over school clothing grants in the current circumstances.
EDUCATION MAINTENANCE ALLOWANCE
Young people aged 16-19 in non-advanced education can continue to receive the education maintenance allowance (EMA) while schools and colleges are closed.
A new application is possible, but eligibility depends on annual household income.
BEST START FOODS
The Best Start foods scheme 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 1 year old, and £4.25 a week during pregnancy and for each child aged 1 or 2 years old.
If you are already getting Best Start foods, this support will continue to be provided.
If your income has gone down, you may now be eligible for 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 if your earnings are no more than £610.
For families on tax credits, entitlement depends on the estimate of annual income used by HMRC. You may qualify if your income in 2019/20 or estimated income in 2020/21 is no more than £7,320 if you are entitled to child tax credit and working tax credit, or £16,190 if you are only entitled to child tax credit.
BEST START GRANTS
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.
The Best Start scheme in Scotland also includes grants. Best Start grants include:
a pregnancy and baby payment of £600 (or £300 if you have another child under 16 in your household), 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 of £250 for children aged two years to three years and six months; and
a school age payment of £250 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
To comply with social distancing, the government expects children to be cared for at home where that is safe to do so, but see below if you are a key worker.
If you are still paying childcare costs but your child is unable to attend the childcare venue, talk to your childcare provider about a reduction or waiving of fees.
WORKING TAX CREDIT AND CHILDCARE COSTS
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 AND CHILDCARE COSTS
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.
16 HOURS FREE CHILDCARE
If you receive 16 hours of free childcare, payment for this will continue to be made to your childcare provider by the government, even if childcare is not being provided.
The planned expansion of free childcare from 600 to 1,140 hours a year from August 2020 has been delayed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Note: 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 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. To access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, furlough must have begun before 10 June 2020, unless you would be returning to work after a period on statutory maternity, shared parental or adoption leave. From 1 July, you can do some paid work for your employer while remaining part of the scheme for the remainder of your usual hours that you are unable to work.
KEY WORKERS
If you are a key (critical) worker and your child cannot be safely looked after at home by someone else, a childcare place should be provided so that you can continue in your work.
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 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.