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Child Benefit and Tax Credits Home Educated 16+ Survey 2014-15
Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits, and the dependants' element of Working Tax Credit are payable on behalf of a young person who remains in full-time education after the age of 16. Child maintenance can also be tied in to payment of Child Benefit for a qualifying young person.
The GOV.UK page on child benefit 16-19 says child benefit "continues if they stay in approved education or training"...and "can include...home education - if started before your child turned 16."
At the end of 2014, following a discussion with HMRC at the Home Education APPG, I carried out a survey amongst home educating families, primarily asking about post-16 Child Benefit, but also touching on the position with regard to 16+ Tax Credits.
The survey consisted of 10 questions. Some questions were aimed at parents who had already gone through the system, while other questions were designed to draw out views from parents of younger children as to what they were expecting, and to see whether they had any worries.
The survey also had the option for respondents to add comments, many of which are included here.
A third of respondents had not yet tried to claim Child Benefit on behalf of their home educated 16 year old. Of those respondents who had tried to claim, almost a quarter said they had had problems, and they spoke of "lengthy delay" or "having to argue their case." Some parents initially had problems but then found someone to help. One parent who filled in the survey said they were dreading having to go through the process as the eldest reached 16 in the coming year.
The Claim Process
The forms were generally felt to be difficult and confusing. One parent said "the benefit department sent a form out to us asking if our daughter would stay in education after 16 and if she she didn't then we were not entitled to child benefit for her. She is currently doing A levels at home but there was no option of home education on the form, so she does not get anything."
The different stages in the process were not seen as transparent. In the first instance, the parent informs Child Benefit or Tax Credits that the child will continue in full time home education. This is generally followed by a second stage where the parent is asked for more details about the home education.
In some cases there is also a third stage where parents are quizzed about information already provided, and they realise that they may have misunderstood the question or not used the "correct wording". As one parent put it "some friends have had their Child Benefits stopped then had to fill in forms differently to get sorted."
One parent said "on the phone to HMRC I found it very difficult to explain home education. I thought I was talking to a machine. I couldn't answer the questions about formal education and qualifications, which they kept asking until they just hung up." Another parent said "phone operatives I have spoken to on the helpline don't seem to have a clear idea of home education and the guidelines."
Several respondents provided initial information but were not asked for further details ie they never reached the second stage. (One parent said "the call centre kept saying there was no special form for HE children. We never did receive one.") Then when their Child Benefit was stopped they assumed they had "failed". Comments included "I know I could have appealed but I couldn't face the fight" and "we have given up trying". By contrast, another parent said "got stopped after I filled in initial form, but this was sorted after I wrote to them explaining how we met the criteria."
One parent was successful in claiming Child Benefit but not Tax Credits, saying "we do not get CTC anymore because she is not working towards formal qualifications," while another parent found Tax Credits easier than Child Benefit, explaining "CTC was easier to sort out in that it was done as the phone call took place."
Several parents made reference to special educational needs or emotional problems as reasons why children were out of school, saying "these families need to be treated with sensitivity."
Tax Credits Web Page
Respondents were not happy with the Tax Credits web page which refers to a young person having been "home tutored." Parents didn't realise this referred to home education as it seemed more applicable to children who were medically unable to attend school and had tutors sent in from the council.
The Tax Credits web site also talks of a young person "taking A Levels" and respondents to the survey said it should be clear that post 16 education doesn't automatically mean A Levels.
Finally, the Tax Credits website talks of 'education elsewhere' which people thought was very confusing. One parent said it sounded as though the young person had been "away from home or even out of the country."
Term Dates and Exams
One parent commented that "the person at HMRC had no idea of what home education entailed and would not approve it without term dates/ exact hours worked and what exams we would be taking and when. All of this can be a nonsense for home education."
One parent described how Child Benefit stopped in the August following her son's 16th birthday. The boy was excluded from school for the last year of compulsory schooling but because he remained on roll he didn't count as "home educated" pre-16.
In contrast to the problems reported by everyone else, a handful of parents did actually find the process very straightforward: "received letter stating benefit would stop, told them son was home educated, they sent form asking for details of hours of education received and continued benefit was confirmed. No problems at all." "Advised them they were continuing full time non advanced education and had been home educated prior to age 16. No problem." "We simply filled in the form saying we educated autonomously and itemising the things our son did: that amounted to more hours of educational stuff than was required; included no 'formal' education."
Home Educated Pre-16
There is a widespread belief that a child must be home educated immediately prior to turning 16 in order for the parent to claim post-16 benefit for home education. One parent summed up the views of many by saying "as far as I know, home-educated children are eligible for CB post-16 only if they were being home-educated when they turned 16" while another asked "would a stint of home ed in primary school count?"
A third parent referred to the "key point, which is whether *any* home-education pre-16 entitles parents to claim CB/CTC post-16, or whether eligibility is based on home-education being continuous before and after the compulsory education age."
Because of this, home educating parents worry that if children try school or college before 16 but then go back to home education, then they won't be able to claim Child Benefit post-16.
In addition, some parents believe not only that the child must be home educated at the point of turning 16, but also that the home education must be full-time, and these parents worry that children who attend school or college part-time 14-16 will not be eligible for post-16 benefit as home educated learners.
Returning to Home Education
Home educating parents also worry that if their son or daughter goes to school or college for the 6th form and it doesn't work out and they want to resume home education, that it will be difficult or impossible to claim claim post-16 benefit.
One parent explained as follows: "this worries me greatly. My younger daughter is 15 and quite keen to go to college next year for A levels. However, she was a poor fit for school when young and has a number of issues around school (eg phobia of speaking out in class/ large classes) so I worry she risks going for a month, hating it, returning to home education and us losing child benefit for the next two years because of a month in college."
A second parent said "from everyone I hear from they seem to be concerned and worried- extra stress and pressure not needed when child has SEN."
Another parent said "I definitely think there would be a problem if my child returned to home education after studying at college post-16. This is a situation I think I may well face in a couple of years time."
A fourth parent summed it up as follows "I think that they would view it as non continuous HE and say its only valid from leaving formal education for the second time."
However, one parent whose child had been to college and then returned to home education was in fact able to continue claiming Child Benefit and simply said "did it, no problem".
One parent summarised the position as follows: "I know many home ed children who have dipped in and out of school or college - it works for some and not for others. if college doesn't work out families should be able to return to home ed without penalty and that should be made clearer."
Several respondents to my survey speculated that it might be less of an issue if home education were hardly interrupted at all, ie if the child only tried school or college for a few days.
Finding Reliable Information
Home educating parents said they would look for information on http://edyourself.org/ and ask the home education community or local parents. Schoolhouse was mentioned for Scotland. Parents also said they would look on HMRC and GOV.UK websites. One parent said "I do not feel I could easily find the information from a government source" while another said "I would be concerned phoning HMRC for advice as I can't be sure they would understand home education."
Over 90% of parents surveyed felt it would be helpful if HMRC had a dedicated contact to whom 16+ home education child benefit queries could be referred. One parent said "it would be fantastic for those that do support in the home education community to have a single point of contact to refer people to."
Another parent commented "it would really help if the dedicated contact understood home education and the reasons it is undertaken. It would be great if one could avoid the frosty reception and lack of understanding usually shown."
A third respondent added "it would have to be some one briefed in what home education actually means so that they understand why some home educators find questions such as "when will your new term start?" near to impossible to answer without inventing a date."
Almost half the people who replied said they wouldn't know where to find official information, and of those who had found Government websites, half said they couldn't understand what was being said about home education.
One parent commented "I found the government websites too confusing and difficult to find the right bits. I would look firstly on the gov.uk website, then, as we live in Wales, I would be wondering where we stood on the issue, and would probably consult my AM directly, in the absence of finding the information elsewhere."
Some respondents called for a clear and transparent policy - preferably available online and one parent added that "each member of staff taking calls should have a sheet with the rules highlighted."
Have you had problems claiming Child Benefit on behalf of your home educated son or daughter once they were past the end of compulsory schooling?
Yes 23.19% 16
No 46.3% 32
Not tried 31.88% 22
Have you had problems claiming 16+ Child Benefit for your home educated son or daughter after they tried school or college?
Yes 5.8% 4
No 15.94 11
Not Tried 76.26% 54
Do you think there might be a problem claiming 16+ Child Benefit if your son or daughter was home educated at some stage prior to 16 but then went to school or college some time between age 14 and 16?
Yes 42.03% 29
No 10.14% 7
Don't know/not thought about it 49.28% 34
Do you think there might be a problem claiming 16+ child benefit if your son or daughter was home ed pre-16 but then tried college after 16 before returning to home education?
Yes 72.46% 50
No 7.25% 5
Don't know/not thought about it 21.74% 15
Do you know of anyone who has had problems claiming 16+ Child Benefit when their child was home educated?
Yes 39.13% 27
No 60.69% 42
The current example on the HMRC website says "Jane is 17 years old and is taking her A levels. She has been home tutored from the age of 14 and continues to be so. The claimant would still be entitled to claim CTC for Jane as she was receiving this education elsewhere before her 16th birthday."http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/tctmanual/tctm02230.htm Would it be better if it said something like: "Jack is 17 and is home educated. He is working towards A levels. He was home educated between the ages of 11 and 14. The claimant would still be entitled to claim CTC for Jack as he was receiving education otherwise than at school before his 16th birthday."?
Yes 68.12% 47
No 5.8% 4
Don't know 26.09% 18
If you did have a problem with 16+ home educated child benefit do you know where you could ask for help?
Yes 50.72% 35
No 50.72% 35
Do you think it would be helpful if HMRC had a dedicated contact to whom 16+ home education child benefit queries could be referred?
Yes 92.75% 64
No 0.00% 0
Don't know 7.25% 5
Do you know where to find official information on the internet about 16+ home educated child benefit?
Yes 39.13% 27
No 47.83% 33
Don't know/not thought about it 14.49% 10
If you have looked at the official information on the internet about home education, did you find it unambiguous and easy to understand?
Yes 7.25% 5
No 49.28% 34
Not looked 44.93% 31