Benefits and children: who counts?

Monday 03 February 2020

This three part blog looks at benefits support for all children and young people when a family is affected by cancer, some of the benefit complications around that time of change around 16 and the extra support available when it's a child or young person in the family that has received the cancer diagnosis.

These blogs are inspired by Sue’s blog  - When a child has cancer - the impact on siblings and school friends .

That made me think that it could be helpful to pull together information from other Benefit Blogs and adapt them to the slightly different - but related - world of extra financial support for children and young people with cancer. As ever, some of that extra help depends on family income and savings, but significant ones do not, so there is help for all families in this situation.

Some of that support, though, comes as  additional amounts within the benefits for  all children and young people – in sickness and in health. So, it makes sense to take a step back to cover these too; both for children and young people with a cancer diagnosis, but also for all families who may be experiencing extra costs and a hit to income due to cancer, regardless of who has actually had the diagnosis.

But who exactly counts as a child for benefits purposes? And what on earth is a “qualifying young person” and what help is there if you aren’t such a thing?

So the original idea has grown a bit. But I hope usefully, as whether or not a child or young person has cancer, they will still  be affected by the way the benefits system supports children and reacts to choices at 16 and after.

  • Here in Part 1, I begin at the beginning and look at benefits definitions of:  Who is a child, a young person (qualifying or not)? ;  Who can claim for them? and How do life choices from 16 on and and benefits link up ? f
  • Next in Part 2 – I look at the benefits help for all children and "qualifying young persons": a bit more about the fairly universally claimed Child Benefit and the changing world of additional income-related support. And what does the ominous sounding “Two child policy” mean?
  • Then in Part 3 , I focus on that extra help when a child or young person has cancer. Some of this is available to all families such as DLA (for children) – with changes ahead in Scotland - and the Carer’s Allowance that a parent or sibling could claim for extra time helping them out. Others means tested support comes in extra amounts within the benefits in Part 2

While Part 3 may have been the original idea, everything in Part 1 and 2 also applies to children and young people with cancer. And I will refer to helpful issues and choices for young people with cancer as I go. So, it is worth not skipping Parts 1 and 2. But do take a break between.

Who counts as a child or young person for benefits?

So, to begin at the beginning, I will kick off with that deep philosophical question – or rather what the benefit rules say – about who counts as a child or young person for benefit purposes and some of the trickier bits from 16-ish on.

For parents, their child may be their child forever, but the benefits system always likes to have proper rules with “rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty”. For benefits purposes there is a change around 16. The “around” b is because the exact date varies slightly between the benefits concerned.

But generally the system distinguishes between:

  • a child under 16-ish who is counted as a dependent child with the general assumption that they are in "relevant education"
  • a “qualifying young person” (QYP) is someone over that age, but who can still be counted in their parent’s benefit claims, potentially up to the age of 20. However, that only applies while they are in “relevant non-advanced education” or “approved training”.



Can a child or young person claim their own benefits?



No, a child has to reach the age of 16 to make any claim. Benefits in respect of children are claimed by a responsible adult - see below.

An extra benefit like DLA for children  - see more in Part 3 - is  claimed in the child’s name, but by the responsible adult. And the child will get their very own National Insurance number to play with and will prepare to take over any claim at 16, though Scotland will be doing this around 18 in future


Young people

Yes and No.

The cut off point for being counted as a child in education - after which you need to be a “qualifying young person” for things to carry on . This varies a bit, depending on the benefit  concerned and which UK nation you are in.

However, the start date for a young person being able to claim any benefits they may be entitled to in their own right is always the 16th birthday. But basic benefits to live on, generally come with significant restrictions until you reach 18, though these do not apply to young people with cancer

Some benefits have no age restrictions: e.g. Carer’s Allowance by a young carer or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for a young person with cancer. See Part 3.



Who counts as a parent for making a claim for a child or QYP

The most obvious person to claim might be a child’s actual or adoptive parent, but claims can be made by others too.

Claims for financial help with the costs of children don’t have to be made by the actual biological or adoptive parent. They can be made by anyone who is a parent or “acting parent”. 


Acting parents

An “acting parent”  could be anyone else over 16, who meets the criteria of taking responsibility for that child . So that could include anyone else stepping into that role for any reason: a grandparent, aunt, uncle, family friend and perhaps as a surprise to many an older sibling.

And in the following example that was really important to one family:

The family was made up of a lone parent and two children aged 16 and 11. They were a tight loving family, but the father had passed away, there was no extended family to step in. Sadly, the mother had advanced and life-limiting cancer. Her biggest worry  was what would happen to her children after her time.

Under financial pressure, local social services could only offer to step in close to that time. They could at least reassure mum r that the children could be taken into care and that would try hard to find a placement for them together, but… The thought, of facing a triple loss of their mum, the family home and possibly each other was hugely difficult and upsetting for the whole family.

However, a social worker from a cancer charity had the resources to step in much earlier, supporting the family though this change. An idea struck her and she hauled in her Benefits Advisor colleague  into developing a cunning plan. The 16-year old was already stepping into an adult role as a young carer and was doing it incredibly well. So the idea was what if there was a way for the older sibling to take on the parenting role, with ongoing support from local and cancer social workers:

  • Could the 16 year old actually claim for her sibling??? Oh ,yes said the benefits Advisor.  
  • And as a “lone parent” for herself. ? Yes, indeed. 
  • And take over a tenancy and get help with the rent? Certainly

And so: 

  • The social worker was able to add her professional assessment and ongoing support to help social services think beyond a default, expensive, firefighting response.
  • The housing association, knowing that it could work financially and there was ongoing support, were helped to overcome concerns around tenancies for under 18s and to waive the need for a guarantor. 
  • the advisor was able to clarify that the finances could work. The 16 year old could take on benefit claims as a “lone parent” to their younger brother. So she could take over Child benefit and Child Tax Credit claims and claim as a “lone parent” for Income Support for herself and Housing benefit to cover the rent.

A huge weight was lifted off the mother’s shoulders and though the sadness of a parting to come remained, there was still comfort in the being actively involved in a loving handover and planning for a future. Family discussions about the future included some hope, humour and banter rather than total dread. 


Shared parenting

If parents have separated and a child is living in a shared care arrangement, then the benefits system can’t really cope with splitting the benefits. Sometimes a child may be living with one parent most of the time and they would be the one to claim benefits. Other times it’s a roughly 50-50, so they might make a decision as to who is best placed to claim the benefits.

Because of slightly different rules it is also possible for one parent to claim Child Benefit and the other to claim the income related top ups from Child Tax Credit etc (see more in Part 2) But that’s about as far as recognising shared care goes, so parents will need to sort out the costs f that child between themselves.



Choices at 16 onwards


To become a QYP or make your own claim.

If you are carrying on in relevant education (see below as to what that means exactly) , there can often be a choice between carrying on as QYP on a “parent’s“ claim and switching over to making your own claim. However, it’s these basic amounts that come with 17 and 17 year old restrictions. But a young person with cancer is free of those restrictions, so they would be one example of a young person with a choice.

Where there is a choice, which works best? The amounts a young person might get is fairly easy to work out, but the amount a parent would then lose varies considerably according to the parent’s income, which benefits they are claiming and whether the family is being hit by the "Two Child Policy" - see Part 2 for more on that

For a young person with cancer, the full extra amounts for disability on a parent’s claim can be much  higher than in your own claim. But is the parent going to get that full amount? And if not how much? Might they lose out a bit in the sums for you but you both do better if another sibling can come in from the cold of the "Two Child Policy" ? It is certainly worth checking out the sums with a Benefits Advisor.

It’s not just the money. Other issues might be a a guided steps to independence versus a young person's readiness, which may trump the best deal financially. There is a halfway option  where a young person claims in their own right, but parents act as "appointees" to make the claims and receive monies on the young person's behalf.


Life choices at 16 and benefits

In the run up to turning 16 and in years immediately after, a young person has to make some choices about what happens next. In general, the benefits system is expecting people to choose between: carrying on at school / college, getting a job or going into workplace training or apprenticeships.

The system  makes some allowances to allow a little bit extra time to get those choices sorted, but after a while benefits paid as a child will stop. There isn’t then a general fourth option to claim benefits as a jobseeker until you are 18, so that’s why the key basic benefits for 16 and 17 year olds are restricted.

The benefits system and wider society is concerned if  a young person is a bit of a "NEET". That’s someone  "Not in Employment, Education orTraining".  It probably isn’t good for you or society to be a NEET for long, but there can be many reasons why this can happen for someone: family circumstances and issues, tricky times, putting off decisions, basic confidence / skills and physical and emotional health.

NEETs then won't be covered , but there are exemptions for certain groups, mainly those who would not be expected to look for work. So a young person with cancer coud claim even if illness and treatment was forcing them to be a NEET. However, they may also feel up to carrying on with education - perhaps from home or ward - and so not be a NEET at all. In that case, they can choose to claim in their own right or remain as a "qualifying young person" on a parent's claim.  

So the benefit support linked to the main choices are:

  • In education: carrying on as before on a parent or acting parent’s claim while in non-advanced education up until, potentially age 20 (eg if you have missed a year or two)
  • In employment: your wages and any "in work" benefits that might apply
  • In training : it varies a little depending on the type of training 

Training might take the form of: 

  • longer term apprenticeships at different levels when you work - and are paid - 
  • If you are not yet ready, then short term Traineeships – a few weeks to 6 months - give you valuable work experience, a chance to brush up on key skils basic and quality training. Expenses are covered but there is no obligation for an employer to pay any wage or allowance. 
  • Approved training: a specicific form of traineeship to offer a second chance to focus on key literacy and numeracy skills. Names of schemes  vary across the four nations of the UK. Financial support is the same as for staying on in education, so you are a "qualifying young person" on a parent's claim.

In the run up to school leaving age, HMRC will send the acting parent a short form and information about keeping a Child Benefit claim going. It doesn’t need filling in straight away, but does need to be back in before the Child Benefit cut-off date.

  • If you have a clear idea of wanting to carry on in school or sixth form college then with that filled in you seamlessly segue from child to young person.
  • If you are thinking of other options you do get some time to plan and prepare after leaving school, as benefits don’t stop  the moment you bid a fond – or otherwise -farewell to the school gates. If you are young person with cancer then you can claim benefits from age 16, regardless while exploring those options as health allows.
  • there are also some other exceptions to the ban on basic benefits  for 16 to 17 year olds whether on an ongoing basis or for a bit longer 

But if you don’t come under these - and are going through a period of being a complete NEET - then you will not be covered by any benefits



Young people in education


Non-advanced relevant education

This means: 

  • up to A-level or equivalent, whether at school or college 
  • and for for a minimum of 12 hours a week. 

However, it also includes home tuition – or on a hospital ward – as long there is an element of guidance and supervision of your studies. If you have opted out / tried something else, you can opt back into being a QYP by starting back in education up until the age of 19. If you are still on a course after that you can continue to count as a QYP until the age of 20


Approved training

As described above, being in "approved training” also counts - in the same way as “relevant education” - to enable a 16 to 20 year old to be a QYP. 


Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

This was UK wide bonus for young people, not intended to cover living costs, but to help with the added costs and give some incentive to the 16+ to choose ongoing education. EMA has a mix of regular cash payments (up to £30 a week depending on parental income) and bonus amounts for achieving goals set out in a Learning Agreement  agreed with teachers/tutors. It was abolished across the UK, but:

the scheme was picked up by devolved Governments and continues as EMA in Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland.

partially replaced by the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund in England .


Advanced education

This is “higher” education up to degree level or equivalent . A student can be any age, but one young person might be starting University  at 17 while their older friend or sibling may still be doing A levels up until 18 (or even up to the age of 20 . The point is the nature of your studies rather than your age , ad generally students in advanced education:

  • cannot be counted as “qualifying young people” for parents to claim benefits
  • cannot usually access basic means tested benefits (with important exceptions) regardless of  age.

Students then are meant to live on the mix of grants and student loans to cover their maintenance costs and tuition fees, which varies amongst the UK nations.  However, there are important exceptions to this benefits ban, so a young person with cancer at University can claim means tested benefits, although they will be assumed to have claimed student grants/loans. .

Other benefits can be claimed by any student, but there are “not being in education” restrictions on some benefits. But there is no restriction on any  student claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Means tested support for sickness – such as Income-related ESA or Universal Credit – does have student restrictions. However, if you pass the assessment and also have PIP, then a student with e.g. cancer can qualify. UC originally created created a bit of a “catch 22” on this. Advisors came u with a cunning work around, but now UC has come up with an official fix to that issue.



Useful links and further reading:


Other blogs in this series

Other useful blogs


External links

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