Why has my child benefit gone down?

We explain why your child benefit may have been reduced or stopped completely - and what you can do about it

Mother helping teenage daughter on laptop while sat on the sofa
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've checked your account and are wondering why you child benefit payment has gone down, there could be a couple of reasons as to why this has happened. 

Child benefit is a lifeline for many families right now, as they struggle with rising energy bills and squeezed budgets during the cost of living crisis. It’s paid to parents or carers with babies, children and teenagers, and is worth up to £1,133 a year for an eldest or only child. A lower amount of £751 a year is paid for additional children.

However, it is not paid automatically - you need to claim it to begin with, and when your child reaches age 16, you will need to reapply for it if you meet the criteria. Yet thousands of families have not yet told HMRC that their 16 year old is staying in education or in an approved training scheme, meaning their child benefit payments would have stopped on 31 August.

Payments could have also gone down or stopped if a parent changed their bank account, if a child lives with someone else, or if the child is receiving certain benefits. 

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at the investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “For any parent who has been struggling through the expensive school holidays and tackled the horrible cost of going back to school, a sudden stop in child benefit payments can come as a horrible shock.”

Remember that in addition to child benefit, you may also be entitled to other government tax breaks and benefits. If your child hasn’t started school yet, check to see if you’re eligible for 30-hours free childcare, or the tax-free childcare allowance (this is also available to primary-school aged children).

Why has my child benefit gone down?

Your child benefit payments may have been reduced if you forgot to tell HMRC that your teenager is staying in full-time education after getting their GCSE or Scottish National Certificate results, or that they have left but are in an approved training scheme.

Child benefit stops on the 31 August on or after a child’s 16th birthday if they leave education or training. It continues if they stay in approved education or training, but it is up to the parent or carer to tell HMRC. Otherwise, the payments will automatically stop.

Earlier this year, HMRC wrote to 1.3 million parents and carers of children, who were in the last year of school or education, to remind them to update their child benefit records by 31 August, or risk seeing their payments end. More than 650,000 families have already notified HMRC, but many have yet to do so.

If you have several children, one of whom is 16 and has just gone back to school to start their A-levels, and another one is aged say 13, your child benefit payment may have gone down if you missed the 31 August deadline. 

For example, you would have previously been getting a child benefit payment worth £36.25 a week for both of them. However, if payment for the 16 year old has stopped, this means the total payment would have dropped to £14.45 a week. This equates to a £57.80 payment into your bank account, as child benefit is usually paid every four weeks.

Rosie Hooper, chartered financial planner at the wealth manager Quilter, says: “Those eligible for post-16 child benefit should ensure they update their records as soon as possible. 

“Given the current cost of living crisis, the benefit will be all the more valuable and many families run the risk of losing out if they do not reapply.”

What are other reasons for HMRC to reduce my child benefit payment?

Your child benefit payment could have been delayed or stopped for several other reasons. If you have changed bank accounts and not informed the Child Benefit Office, your payment will be late. When this happens, HMRC usually sends a letter asking for your new bank details. If you missed the letter, contact them and ask what they need in order to restart payments. 

It’s best to keep HMRC updated about any change in bank account, or if you move address.

Your child benefit payments may also stop if your child starts paid work for 24 hours or more a week and is no longer in approved education or training, starts an apprenticeship in England, or starts getting certain benefits in their own right, such as income support, employment and support allowance or tax credits.

If your child is now living with someone else, it may also mean you’re no longer eligible and your payments would stop.

How do I know if my 16 year old is still eligible for child benefit? 

Child benefit can continue to be paid to a parent or carer until the child turns 19, as long as they are in full-time non-advanced education or approved training. This includes A-levels, Scottish Highers and NVQs up to Level 3. If you’re home-schooling your child and it started before they turned 16 (or after 16 if they have special needs), this also counts as approved education.

Approved training should be unpaid and can include traineeships in England, foundation apprenticeships or traineeships in Wales, employability fund and No One Left Behind programmes in Scotland, and certain schemes in Northern Ireland. There’s a full list on the government website.

Child benefit can also be paid to parents or carers of 16 or 17 year olds that leave education or training and register with the armed services or a government-sponsored careers service. However, this is just for a short time and is known as an “extension” ; child benefit will only be paid for 20 weeks. 

How do I claim child benefit if I missed the 31 August deadline? 

You can still tell HMRC that your teenager is entitled to child benefit, but your payments could be late. This depends on how soon after 31 August you contact HMRC, and when you normally receive your payment.

According to personal finance expert Sarah Coles, parents may not have been aware they needed to tell the Child Benefit Office to keep receiving payments for their 16 year old, and that “it’s easy to lose track of these things”.

To notify HMRC, either send the form back that you received in the post earlier this year, update your online personal tax account, or call the Child Benefit Office on 0300 200 3100.

If your child does not meet the criteria for you to continue receiving child benefit — for example, they have left school and have a paid job — you do not need to contact HMRC. 

And if your teenager turns 16 in this new school year, don’t panic, as you don’t need to do anything until next summer.

When is child benefit paid? 

Child benefit is usually paid every four weeks on a Monday or Tuesday straight into your bank account. If you’re a single parent or getting certain other benefits, such as income support, you can have the money paid weekly. You can only get the money paid into one account - this can be any account, apart from a Nationwide CashBuilder account in someone else’s name.

Bear in mind that bank holidays can affect when the payments are made. Child benefit is typically paid early if it’s due on a bank holiday. So, any payments due on the August bank holiday Monday (29 August) were paid on Friday 26 August.

Payments due on Boxing Day this year will be paid on Friday 23 December, while those due on 27 December (a bank holiday) will also be paid on 23 December. A full list of child benefit payment dates are available on the government website.  

Ruth Emery
Contributor to our sister brand The Money Edit

Ruth is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times. 

A multi-award-winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service. 

Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, a magistrate and an NHS volunteer.