Coronavirus and benefits for care-experienced young people in Scotland
Many people, including some care-experienced young people, are 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 coronavirus-related changes to social security benefits that impact solely on care-experienced young people, but there are a few issues which may be of relevance to some care-experienced young people.
This briefing covers:
Some young care leavers, aged 16 and 17, are excluded from universal credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit. Instead the local authority which last looked after the young person is legally responsible for supporting them financially and in terms of accommodation. To find out more detail about this see this CPAG in Scotland factsheet. The financial support that the local authority provides to a young care leaver who is excluded from benefits should be at least the equivalent of the amount of the social security benefit which the young person is unable to claim. Since the coronavirus outbreak the rate of universal credit standard allowance has been increased. The rate for a single person aged under 25 is currently £342.72 per calendar month, equating to £79.09 a week. This is the minimum that a young care leaver excluded from benefit entitlement should expect to receive from the local authority.
Many care-experienced young people who are studying full-time receive a ‘care-experienced bursary’. The level of the bursary and its interaction with the social security system mean that many people receiving the care-experienced bursary are not entitled to social security benefits like universal credit, at least during term-time.
Many full-time students, including care-experienced students, rely on getting paid work during the summer vacation to make ends meet. The coronavirus outbreak is having an impact on the employment options available to students. Care-experienced students should bear in mind that, if they are unable to find employment during the summer vacation then, unlike many students, some may be able to claim universal credit. For example, some young students who are ‘without parental support’ can claim universal credit.
See CPAG's briefing Coronavirus and universal credit for students in Scotland for more information on which students are able to claim universal credit. It is always a good idea to get advice as this can be a complicated area.
Although tax credits are being replaced by universal credit, many people – including some care-experienced young people - are, at present, still getting child tax credit and/or working tax credit.
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 and you cannot reclaim them. 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 you 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.
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. These are:
a pregnancy and baby payment of either £600 or £300;
an early learning payment of £250; and
a school age payment of £250.
The best start grant payments are important for care-experienced people who are parents.
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 be claimed between 1 June 2020 and 28 February 2021.
At the moment, 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.
The job start payment provides a one-off payment of £250 (or £400 if you have a dependent child or children) to some young people to help with the costs of starting a new job. For care-experienced young people the rules are slightly relaxed. Normally the payment is available to young people up to their 25th birthday, but if you are a care-experienced young person, the payment may be available up to your 26th birthday. Usually you have to have been out of work and claiming one of the qualifying benefits for at least six months, but for care-experienced young people you can be eligible as long as you are out of work and on a relevant benefit when you get a job offer.
For the job start payment ‘care-experienced’ means that you were looked after by the local authority at or beyond your 16th birthday.