Life happens. When that means adding or losing someone from the family home, it can take some getting used to. There can even be some financial pitfalls.
Our homes watch our families come together, grow and move on. Every change has a price tag – some good, some bad, but usually a mix of both. Change can be hard but thinking ahead to the costs involved means one less thing to deal with.
Moving in together starts an exciting new chapter. Sharing the cost of running a home is just one bonus. It doesn’t mean a doubling of benefits if we’re on them, though. It also means a ‘change of circumstances’ that could trigger a move onto Universal Credit (UC), if we’re not on it already.
Couples claim jointly, affecting claimants setting up home together and workers on Tax Credits, for example. Lone parents no longer alone should check their entitlement to help straight away.
Most new parents know a baby will have an impact on their wallet but for claimants, changes at home could prompt a move onto UC. On top of the other pressures, plan for over a month without benefit payments and avoiding the other pitfalls. (See here for key pointers.)
Child Benefit is separate from UC. When baby turns three, the main carer is expected to find work. All UC claimants sign a commitment to finding work when required. The agreement should account for hours freed up by childcare or school, less the travel time. Be realistic or DWP may issue a sanction and reduce payments.
Workers claiming UC can receive up to 85 per cent of childcare costs back. Claimants, though, have struggled to pay up front and receive payments in arrears. More details here.
FLEEING THE NEST
Fast forward to when the kids get older. If you no longer get Child Benefit for your teenage kids, after they start work, for example, they will be expected to pay their way. Their bedroom is no longer counted as ‘occupied’, in terms of benefit payments and the Bedroom Tax could now apply.
The government decided claimants of Housing Benefit (and UC, if covering rent costs) with a spare room have more space than they need. They introduced a penalty for working age claimants for this. The Bedroom Tax, (Under-Occupancy Charge), takes 14 per cent of rent back for one spare room and 25 per cent for two. Renters must cover the difference or move to a smaller home. More on the Bedroom Tax here.
UC claimants should check if they’d be better off finding work, if they’re able, to offset the cost. Taking in a lodger could be an option but we need to talk to the landlord first and take advice on benefits.
When relationships go sour and someone moves out, costs can rocket. This can impact our mental health and it’s worth talking to someone. Firstly, check more money is coming in than going out. Contact an advice agency and check if you’re now entitled to more help from welfare.
Our landlord might be able to offer guidance and if the tenancy is in both names, they need to be notified. For couples jointly claiming UC, new claims need to be made. What we’re entitled to will probably change but maybe not for the worse.
Support with council tax might apply, as could, for lone parents, free school meals and other help. We might feel too proud but all that matters is avoiding debt. We can rebuild later.