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 If one parent earns more than £60,000 their child benefit will be withdrawn altogether.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

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation