Q&A: Child benefit changes

Child benefit is claimed by nearly all families with children, regardless of their income.

It is one of the few non-means-tested benefits left, but Chancellor George Osborne has announced it will be axed for better-off parents.

What was announced?

From 2013, the coalition government will withdraw child benefit from families in which one or both parents are higher-rate taxpayers.

The measure will affect people earning more than £42,475 a year. That means people in the 40% income tax bracket, and those whose taxable earnings are above £150,000, who therefore pay the new 50% additional rate of income tax.

The proposal means that if both parents earn less than £42,475, they will continue to receive child benefit. But families with one main earner on, for example, £43,000, will see their benefit stopped.

Mr Osborne said it was not a decision the government had "taken lightly".

"It's a big decision for us, but we think it's absolutely necessary and fair, given the financial situation we face," he said.

Impact of child benefit cut
Tax rate Annual income Benefit Keep or cut?
1x Lower
£42,475 or less
£1,752.4
1x Higher
£42,476 or more
0
2x Lower
£84,950

(2 x 42,475)
£1,752.4
1x Lower
1x Higher
£84,951

(42,475 + 42,476)
0

Note: higher rate tax begins after earning £42,475 (£35,000 + personal allowance of £7,475)

Source: HMRC

Who will be affected and how much will it save the Treasury?

The Treasury says about 15% of families will lose out. In real terms, this means 1.2 million families will be affected, while 6.6 million will see no change to their child benefits.

The Treasury says the annual child benefit bill is about £12bn, and the cutback will save £1bn a year.

How could the government stop higher earners claiming?

The chancellor has suggested that any higher-rate taxpayers in receipt of child benefit may be asked to declare this fact on their self-assessment tax returns, implying they would then face an extra tax charge.

It might be simpler for HM Revenue & Customs, which administers the child benefit system, simply to cross-reference claimants against their tax records.

The child benefit claim form already asks for full details of a spouse or partner.

Even simpler would be to put a warning at the bottom of the form, warning higher rate tax payers that they are no longer eligible and they might be prosecuted if they still claim.

How much is child benefit?

Child benefit is worth £20.30 every week for a first-born child.

For each subsequent child, there is an additional weekly payment of £13.40. The money is not taxed.

In the emergency budget after the general election, Mr Osborne announced child benefit would be frozen for three years.

Who can receive it?

It is available for every child in the UK below the age of 16; child benefit is paid to the parent directly responsible for care of the youngster.

You may get child benefit if you pay towards bringing up a child who does not live with you if no-one else is claiming the benefit for them.

Those in full-time education remain eligible until the age of 19, but the cut-off point for children registered for work or training is 18.

How many parents claim it?

Child benefit is taken up by 96-97% of the eligible population, according to HMRC.

Which department administers the benefit?

HMRC is responsible for the administration of child benefit; previously it was overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Whose idea was it?

After World War II, bringing up several children was encouraged to restore the birth rate.

And in 1945 the Family Allowance was introduced to provide benefit for second and subsequent children.

In 1975, then Labour Social Affairs Secretary Barbara Castle put forward the Child Benefit Act, proposing additional benefit for the first child.

And between 1977 and 1979, child benefit replaced the Family Allowance and Child Tax Allowance.

What has this got to do with child tax credits?

Nothing. That is an entirely different and more complicated system introduced by the last Labour government.

Where can I get further information?

Contact the Child Benefit Office inquiry line (Great Britain residents): 0845 302 1444/ Textphone: 0845 302 1474.

Northern Ireland residents, telephone 0845 603 2000.

The HMRC website has more information on eligibility.

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