Coronavirus and benefits for kinship carers in Scotland
‘Kinship care’ is the term usually used to describe the situation where a child is being cared for on a permanent, or semi-permanent, basis by a member of their extended family or by a family friend. Sometimes the child in a kinship care situation is formally ‘looked after’ by the local authority and sometimes not.
Many people, including some kinship carers, are being financially affected by the coronavirus outbreak, whether because they are furloughed, have lost a job or lost income from self-employment. In the face of these financial changes, many people are having to make new claims for social security benefits. There are no specific changes related to the coronavirus outbreak impacting solely on Scottish kinship carers, but there are a few issues which may be of relevance to some kinship carers.
This briefing covers:
Although tax credits are being replaced by universal credit, many people – including kinship carers – are, at present, still getting child tax credit and working tax credit. There are some special rules about when a kinship carer can get child tax credit in respect of the child for whom they care. In particular, there are special rules which impact on kinship carers who are caring for a child who is ‘looked after’ by the local authority. For more detailed information see this CPAG in Scotland factsheet.
If you are currently getting tax credits and your circumstances have changed (for example, you have had a drop in income) you may be thinking about claiming universal credit. If you do so, your tax credits will stop. It is vital that anyone in this situation gets a proper benefit check before deciding what is best for them. It may be that you can remain on tax credits and this might be a better option.
There are a couple of important points to note. Firstly, if you get working tax credit this is based on working a certain number of hours (being in ‘remunerative work’). If your hours have dropped because of the coronavirus outbreak but you are still employed, HM Revenue and Customs (which administers tax credits) has stated that you should still be treated as being in remunerative work and do not, at the moment, need to report the drop in hours. You may also be treated as still being in remunerative work while you are off sick. Secondly, if you have had had a drop in income, you may be entitled to an increase in your existing award of tax credits. For more detail on tax credits see CPAG’s briefing Tax Credits and Coronavirus.
As a result of the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak, many people are claiming universal credit for the first time. There are some special rules in the universal credit system that kinship carers need to be aware of. In particular, if you are caring for a child who is looked after by the local authority then you will not get the ‘child element’ of universal credit for that child. To find out more about these special rules see this CPAG in Scotland factsheet.
The best start grant is a Scottish benefit providing financial help with the costs of having a baby or young child. It is divided into three separate one-off payments:
a pregnancy and baby payment of either £600 or £300;
an early learning payment of £250; and
a school age payment of £250.
Kinship carers can often claim a best start grant for a child they care for – even where the child’s parent has already received the same payment. Find out more about the best start grant.
Each of the three best start grant payments – the pregnancy and baby payment, the early learning payment and the school age payment – have strict rules about when you must claim them. The pregnancy and baby payment must normally be claimed by the time your baby is six months old, or by the time the baby is one year in certain circumstances such as kinship care. The early learning payment must normally be claimed within the 18-month period starting on the child’s second birthday. The school age payment for children born between 1 March 2015 and 29 February 2016 (inclusive) must usually be claimed between 1 June 2020 and 28 February 2021.
If your claim for any of these payments is late, it can be treated as if it was made in time if you missed the deadline due to the coronavirus outbreak. You still must have satisfied the conditions of entitlement within the normal time frame.
Some kinship carers receive a kinship care allowance from the local authority. The amount is usually based on the local authority’s fostering allowance rate less any child-related benefits that you receive for the child which a foster carer would not get (for example child benefit, child tax credit). If you get a kinship care allowance from the local authority and your other income reduces, you should let the local authority know. In some situations, the kinship care allowance should be adjusted to take into account the reduction in other income. An example of this would be a kinship carer who is caring for a child who is looked after by the local authority and is receiving child tax credit. If the kinship carer has to claim universal credit instead of child tax credit, they will not receive the child element of universal credit. The kinship care allowance should be adjusted to reflect the fact that child tax credit is no longer in payment. For more information, see CPAG’s factsheets, Kinship Care and Benefits and Universal Credit and Kinship Carers.