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.
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."