Five questions answered on the new child benefit cuts taking effect today

Families earning over a certain amount will today lose their child benefit. We answer five questions on the changes to the UK child benefit system.

How much do you have to be earning to lose your child benefit?

Under the new legislation families with one parent earning more than £50,000 will lose part of their child benefit. If one parent earns more than £60,000 their child benefit will be withdrawn altogether.

What these families will actually be losing is £20.30 a week paid for the first child and £13.40 a week for every child after that until the age of 16 or 18, if they are still full time education, in some cases this may continue until the child is 20.

How much does the government hope to save with this new benefit scheme?

Approximately £1.5bn a year, which will be used to help reduce the deficit.

What are critics of the changes saying?

Critics have pointed out that two parents earning £49,000 a year will keep their benefit, while a family with one parent working who earns £51,000 will lose their benefit even though jointly they have a smaller household income.

They also point out that those who never opted out of child benefit by the deadline will now have to fill out a self assessment tax form creating complexity in the system.

If someone or their partner keeps claiming child benefit when now not entitled to it the money will have to be clawed back by High Income Child Benefit Charge run by the HMRC after the recipient declares it in a self assessment tax form.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that 500,000 extra people might have to fill in these forms as a result of the change.

How many people will be affected by the cuts?

It is estimated that more than a million will be affected by the changes with the IFS estimating people could lose about £1,300 a year.

What has the treasury said?

A Treasury spokesman told the BBC: "Withdrawing child benefit on the basis of the combined family income would require intrusive means-testing of all eight million households getting child benefit. The way we are doing it is simpler for the vast majority of families."

A baby, about to lose its benefits. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.