What is child benefit, am I eligible and how much could I get?

If you’ve found yourself wondering what is child benefit, this guide explains everything you need to know

Family mixing cookie dough at home
(Image credit: getty images)

Wondering what is child benefit? At a time where bills are rising all around and average childcare costs (opens in new tab) are going up too, it’s never been more prudent for families to understand the benefits they are entitled to. Child benefit payments can help give your family budget a much needed boost. You could also see if you are eligible for 30-hours free childcare (opens in new tab) or the tax-free childcare allowance (opens in new tab)

It’s not paid automatically so you do need to claim it and if you don’t, you could be missing out on at least £1,133 a year, and more if you have more than one child.

Kalpana Fitzpatrick, Editor of our sister brand The Money Edit (opens in new tab), says: "Family finances are under extreme pressure with the rising cost of living, so it's imperative that you apply for any benefits you may qualify for to ease the squeeze."

What is child benefit? 

Child benefit is a payment from the Government to help families with the cost of bringing up children. It was first introduced in 1977 and replaced the previous Family Allowance system. Anyone who is responsible for bringing up children can claim it. It’s not means tested, so there’s no need to prove how much you earn to qualify for it. 

Payments are made at fixed rates - so everyone gets the same rate regardless of their financial situation. You can claim child benefit regardless of how much you have in savings - which isn’t the case with some other benefits.

How does child benefit work? 

With child benefit you can claim a regular weekly payment for each and every child in your household – and there is no limit on the maximum number of children you can claim for. Payments are made while children are under 16, or 20 if they are in ‘approved’ full time education or training.

Only one person can claim child benefit for each child so it’s worth thinking carefully about which parent receives the money according to Sarah Coles (opens in new tab), personal finance analyst with Hargreaves Lansdown.

“If one of you doesn’t work, or doesn’t earn enough to pay National Insurance (opens in new tab), (NI), they should be registered for the child benefit. This is because they can receive National Insurance Credits, which count towards their state pension entitlement. If a parent who earns enough to pay NI receives the money, they won’t get the credit”.

Once you have applied for child benefit, payments will be paid directly to your bank or building society account every four weeks.

How much is child benefit?  

Child benefit is paid at two different rates. For your first child, you will receive £21.80 per week. For any subsequent children, you will receive £14.45 per week.  

The money will be paid directly to your bank, building society account or credit union account every four weeks - usually on a Monday or Tuesday.

Who the allowance is forRate (weekly)
Eldest or only child£21.80
Additional children£14.45 per child

Source – HM Revenue & Customs (opens in new tab) 

In some cases you can apply to have your payments made on a weekly basis, for example, if you are a single parent or are claiming certain benefits including income support.   

If you want to change the way your payments are made or have them paid into a different account – you should contact the child benefit helpline on 0300 200 3100. 

Am I eligible to claim child benefit? 

You are eligible to claim child benefit if you are responsible for one or more children.

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However, once you or your partner earn over £50,000 a year, while you can still receive child benefit, you will be liable for a High Income Child Benefit Tax Charge (opens in new tab).  

Personal finance expert Sarah Coles says: “Since January 2013, if one of the parents earns more than £50,000, some of the child benefit has to be paid back.

“You repay 1% of your benefit for every extra £100 you earn over the threshold, until any family where one parent makes £60,000 or more has to pay it all back. Those repaying a portion of their child benefit will make a claim, and then complete a self-assessment tax return in order to repay a chunk of it”.

“If both of the couple work and pay National Insurance, and one earns more than £60,000, they may choose not to claim child benefit at all. If your circumstances change, you can change your arrangements by contacting HMRC”.

You can use this child benefit tax calculator (opens in new tab) to see how much tax you pay depending on how much you earn.

How to claim child benefit - step by step guide 

You can claim child benefit as soon as you have registered your child’s birth or the child you’ll be responsible for comes to live with you. Claims can be backdated for up to three months, however it can take up to 16 weeks to process new child benefit claims so it’s worth making your claim as soon as possible. 

To get started – you need to download and fill in a child benefit claim form (opens in new tab) (CH2). This may look daunting, but the information needed is basically your personal details like your name, address, date or birth and national insurance number, along with your partner’s details, if this is relevant.   

You also need to complete details of the child, or children you are claiming for and how you want your child benefit paid.

Once the form’s completed, send it back to the address on the form along with any requested documents – usually your child’s birth or adoption certificate.  

These must be originals - not photocopies – and should be returned to you within four weeks.

If at a later stage, you want to add another child to your claim, say after having another baby, you can call the child benefit helpline directly on 0300 200 3100.  

You will need your national insurance number and the child’s birth certificate in order to add them to your existing child benefit claim.

What happens to your child benefit if your family splits up?

If you and your partner split up, it’s usually the person whom the child lives with for the majority of the time who will claim child benefit.

However, in the event you split up and have two children and decide that, under your new living arrangements, one of your children will live with you and one will live with your ex-partner, then you can both claim child benefit.

In this case, you will both be able to claim the higher rate of £21.80 per week for your first child, however if you have more children, you can only claim £14.45 for each and every other child.

If you move in with a new partner who also has children, then the oldest child will be eligible for the higher £21.80 rate, and any other children will get the lower £14.45 weekly rate.

When does child benefit stop? 

Payments will stop on 31 August on, or after your child’s 16th birthday, or when your child leaves further education or training before their 20th birthday.

Hargreaves Lansdown’s Sarah Coles explains what counts as further education or training: “This includes things like A-levels, T levels and NVQs up to level 3. If they are still learning, you will continue to receive it, until the end of February, May, August or November after they leave the approved education. However, you have to tell the Child Benefit Office they’re still studying or it will stop”.

You should also tell the child benefit office about any change in your child’s circumstances (opens in new tab) as this may affect whether or not payments will stop, even temporarily. Changes include if your child starts paid work for more than 24 hours a week, lives away from you for more than eight consecutive weeks or goes abroad for more than 12 weeks.  

You can report any changes to either your child’s circumstances, or your own, online or by calling the child benefit helpline on 0300 200 3100. 

What other benefits can you claim as well as child benefit? 

You can still claim other benefits while you are claiming child benefit. Any other benefits or payments you can claim will depend on your financial and living situation. If you are not working, or on a low income, it’s worth using a free online benefits calculator (opens in new tab) to see what you could be entitled to.  

If you claim child benefit you may be able to benefit from National Insurance credits (opens in new tab). This applies if your child is under 12 and you are not working or don’t earn enough to pay National Insurance.

These credits count towards your state pension so you won’t miss out on your level of state pension later in life by taking time out to bring up your children.

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound. Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!