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
Free school meals are provided in school for all primary 1-3 children 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.
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 £7,330. 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 for childcare that is not being provided
If you are still paying your registered childcare provider but childcare has not been provided due to coronavirus, HMRC has continued to pay the childcare element in this situation. However, from 7 September 2020, the childcare element of WTC will no longer be paid for childcare that is not being provided. From 7 September, your child must be attending childcare in order for you to get help with childcare costs.
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 - check with your local authority.
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.
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.