What benefits can I claim if I am divorcing or separating?

Money Advice Service

If you’re divorcing or separating from your partner and your income has dropped, there are some benefits you can claim as a single person. There are also benefits you can claim if you’re now a lone parent and your children live with you all or most of the time. This page tells you more about what you may be able to get.

Child Benefit

You can get Child Benefit if you’re responsible for a child aged under 16

This age limit rises to 20 if they’re still in full time education up to:

  • A-level,
  • Highers,
  • An equivalent level, or
  • Doing certain ‘approved’ training courses.

If your ex-partner was claiming Child Benefit and you are now going to be responsible for your children, and want to claim it, you can switch who claims the benefit.

Your ex-partner should contact the Child Benefit Office and explain that they no longer want to claim Child Benefit. You will then have to make a new claim for it.

In England, Wales or Scotland, you can find contact details on the GOV.UK website.

In Northern Ireland, you can find contact details on the nidirect website.

There’s more information in our guide Claiming Child Benefit.

Child Benefit and the Higher Tax Charge

If you or your ex-partner is earning over £50,000 and you receive Child Benefit, you should have been taxed on the amount you’ve received.

If your income has dropped below £50,000 as a lone parent and you are continuing to get Child Benefit you should contact the Child Benefit Office and tell them about your change of circumstances following separation.

If you had chosen not to receive Child Benefit, so that your ex-partner didn’t have to pay the extra tax, you should speak to the Child Benefit Office about making a claim for payment.

Universal Credit if you are divorcing or separating

Many of the benefits you would have been able to claim if you are divorcing or separating are being replaced by Universal Credit. These legacy benefits are:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit.

Most people can no longer make new claims for legacy benefits and will be asked to claim for Universal Credit instead.

If you are already getting these benefits and your partner or spouse leaves the family home you will have to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or HMRC about your change of circumstances.

You may now have to claim Universal Credit and will be assessed either as a single person or a lone parent.

Find out more about Universal Credit here.

How Universal Credit replaces Income Support

Income Support is paid if you are on a low income and not available for work, usually because you have caring responsibilities. It is being replaced by the Universal Credit basic allowance.

You might be able to claim Income Support if you’re on a low income and:

  • pregnant
  • a lone parent with a youngest child under 5
  • a carer.
Find out more about Income Support on GOV.UK.

Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

If you have paid enough National Insurance Contributions and worked for two full tax years before claiming, you may be able to get new style JSA along with Universal Credit if you need extra help with things like housing costs or bringing up children.

If you don’t qualify to claim new style ESA and are available for work, you may be able to claim the basic allowance of Universal Credit instead of income-based JSA.

Child Tax Credit

If you have one or two children, you now have to claim Universal Credit instead of Child Tax Credit. You can claim for children until they reach 19 (or 20 in some cases) if they are in full time approved education or training, but not at university.

If your children were born before 6 April 2017, you will be able to claim for them all.

If one or more of your children were born on or after 6 April 2017, you will only be able to claim for the first two unless you had a multiple birth or have adopted.

Working Tax Credit

Working Tax Credit is being replaced by Universal Credit.

Employment and Support Allowance

If you’re unable to work because of illness or disability you might be able to claim new style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have paid enough National Insurance Contributions. You can claim this along with Universal Credit if you also need help with housing costs or bringing up children because you’re on a low income.

If you don’t qualify for new style ESA you may be able to claim the limited capability for work and work related activity element of Universal Credit instead of income-related ESA.

Find out more about moving from ESA to Universal Credit here.

Help with housing costs if you’re divorcing or separating

If you are renting, most people will have to make a claim for the housing costs element of Universal Credit instead of Housing Benefit.

If you are already getting Housing Benefit and your partner or spouse leaves the family home you will have to tell your local council about your change of circumstances. You may now have to claim Universal Credit.

Find out more about moving from Housing Benefit to Universal Credit here.

If you are a homeowner and getting certain means tested benefits such as Universal Credit or Income Support you may be able to claim Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). SMI is paid as a loan, which you have to pay back. There are different ways you can do this.

Find out more about Support for Mortgage Interest.

Council Tax Reduction

You might qualify for a single person’s discount on your Council Tax bill and you get help towards it if you are getting some benefits, such as Income Support or Universal Credit. You will need to apply to your local council.

How Universal Credit affects you if you are a lone parent

If you’re eligible to claim Universal Credit you will usually be put into one of four groups depending on the age of your children:

  • No work-related requirement – lone parents with a child under one.
  • Work focused interview only – lone parents whose youngest child is aged 1.
  • Work preparation requirement – lone parents whose youngest child is aged 2.
  • All work-related requirement – If your child is aged 3 or above.

While your youngest child is aged two or under you will only have to think about what you might do to get back into work. You might have to attend interviews to discuss what you could do and look at improving skills, such as extra training or getting your CV into shape to apply for jobs.

When your youngest child reaches three, you will be expected to look for work if you aren’t already working. You should talk to your work coach about what work is realistic for you based on your caring responsibilities and other things, such as the time you need to drop off or pick up from school or childcare.

Once you have agreed what you will to do to find or prepare for work, this will form part of your claimant commitment. If you don’t keep to what’s been agreed, you could be sanctioned. This means you could lose all or some of your benefit for a few weeks.

You will probably be expected to be available, or look, for work for 16 hours a week once your child reaches three until they start full time school.

After they start full-time school and up until age 13, you will be expected to be available, or look, for work for up to 25 hours a week.

Once your child reaches 13 you will be expected to be available, or look, for work for up to 35 hours a week but you can still ask for this to be changed if there is a good reason for doing so.

You can claim up to 85% of childcare costs up to a certain limit.

How does child maintenance affect your benefit payments?

Child maintenance is not counted as income for means-tested benefits such as Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Universal Credit and Housing Benefit.

This means if you’re getting maintenance you won’t get less money in these benefits. Other benefits which aren’t means-tested won’t be affected either.

If you have to pay child maintenance

If you’re the parent who has to pay child maintenance and you get certain benefits, you’ll have to pay £7 a week out of your benefits if the CMS or CSA make the maintenance arrangement.

If you make a family-based arrangement, you and the other parent can agree what you should pay out of your benefits.

If you’re making a benefit claim, you should always report your child maintenance arrangements to your Jobcentre Plus Office, even if you don’t think it will affect your claim.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

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When we set out to build Rest Less Money, we wanted to be a trusted place where you could find helpful information about financial matters affecting the over 50s. As a free to use resource, we try hard to provide the best information we can, but we cannot guarantee that we won’t occasionally make mistakes. So please note that you use the information on our site at your own risk, and we can’t accept liability if things go wrong.

Key things to remember when using Rest Less Money:

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Accuracy of Information – We try to make sure that all the information provided on Rest Less Money is correct at the time of publishing as we want it to be the most helpful resource possible. Sadly, we are not perfect however, and so we can make no guarantees as to the completeness, accuracy, adequacy or suitability of the information available on the site.
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