Child benefit payments: why yours could be lower than usual and how to make sure you're not missing out

Thousands of parents of 16 year olds could see their child benefit payments stop. We explain what to do if your payments are delayed, reduced or stop completely

mother and teenager on sofa
(Image credit: Getty)

Is your child benefit lower than usual this month? We explain why and what you need to do if your child is turning 16. 

Thousands of parents and carers whose teenagers are staying in education or starting an approved training scheme are being urged to tell HMRC (opens in new tab) or risk losing up to £1,133 a year in child benefit.

Everyone earning less than £50,000 a year who is responsible for bringing up a baby or child can claim this full amount for their eldest child, and £751 a year for each additional child. 

The payments provide a much-needed financial boost for many families at a time of rising bills and squeezed budgets. 

But as children head back to school across the country, some parents may have forgotten to notify HMRC about what their teenager is doing, and see their child benefit automatically stop. 

This is because families must tell HMRC that their 16 year old is staying in full-time education or training - otherwise, payments will have stopped on 31 August.

Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s deputy chief executive and second permanent secretary, said: “Child benefit provides vital financial support for families and we want to make sure no-one misses out because they haven’t updated their details.”

We explain why your child benefit payments may have gone down or stopped - and if you’re eligible, how to restart them.

How does child benefit work? 

Child benefit is a government payment that helps families with the cost of raising their children.

Anyone who is responsible for bringing up a child can claim it, and there’s no limit to how many children you can claim for. 

It doesn’t matter how much you have in savings, but you and your partner’s salary is taken into account to determine how much you’ll receive.

All parents and carers earning less than £50,000 a year can claim £21.80 a week for a first child and £14.45 for each additional child. 

However, if you or your partner earn between £50,000 and £60,000, you’ll get a reduced amount. Those earning more than £60,000 are not entitled to child benefit - they can either choose not to claim the payment, or pay it all back in tax via the high income child benefit charge (opens in new tab). This can be done on your self-assessment tax return.

Making a child benefit claim (even if you have to pay some or all of it back) can be worth doing as it ensures you qualify for National Insurance credits which contribute towards your state pension. If your income means you will have to pay all of it back, then you should still register and just tick the box to say no to the payments - this way you will still benefit from the National Insurance credits.

What do I need to do when my child is 16 to keep my child benefit? 

To receive child benefit, parents must apply for it when they have a baby or become responsible for a child. 

Once you start receiving it, you may think you’ll get it until your child turns 18.

However, this is not the case. To get the payments beyond age 16, you must reapply by telling 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.

Otherwise, child benefit stops on the 31 August on or after a child’s 16th birthday. 

In spring 2022, 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 notified HMRC, but many have yet to do so.

Rosie Hooper, chartered financial planner at the wealth manager Quilter (opens in new tab), said: “While HMRC’s deadline has now passed, 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.”

I’ve missed the 31 August deadline to reapply for child benefit. What should I do? 

Parents and carers can still contact HMRC now and provide an update on what their 16 year old is doing - although their next child benefit payment may be late. 

According to Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at the investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown (opens in new tab), a sudden stop in child benefit payments can come as a “horrible shock”. She added: “For any parent who has been struggling through the expensive school holidays and tackled the horrible cost of going back to school, this is the last thing they need.”

Some parents and carers may not have been aware they needed to tell the Child Benefit Office to keep receiving payments for their 16 year old, and may have mislaid the letter that HMRC sent out. 

If you haven’t notified HMRC yet, put it at the top of your 'to-do list' and try to get it done quickly. You can either send the form back that you received in the post, update your online personal tax account (you’ll need your Government Gateway user ID and password), or call the Child Benefit Office on 0300 200 3100.

In terms of when you’ll receive your next payment, this will depend on how soon after 31 August you contact HMRC, and when you normally receive your payment.

How do I know if my 16 year old is 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, T levels, Scottish Highers and NVQs up to level 3. If you’re home-schooling your child, this also counts as approved education.

Approved training should be unpaid and includes 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 (opens in new tab) on the government website.

Child benefit can also be paid if a 16 or 17 year old leaves education or training and registers with the armed services or a government-sponsored careers service. However, it’ll only be paid for 20 weeks (it’s known as an 'extension (opens in new tab)').   

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 the current school year, don’t panic, as you don’t need to do anything until next summer.

Why might my child benefit payment be reduced or stopped? 

Your child benefit payment could have been reduced or stopped for several reasons.

If your child is 16, you need to confirm to HMRC whether they are staying in full-time education or approved training. Otherwise, the payments stop. 

Your child benefit payments may also stop if your child begins 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, such as income support, employment and support allowance or tax credits.

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

Changing bank accounts and forgetting to tell HMRC could mean your payment is late. “You might have missed a payment because you have changed bank accounts and not let the Child Benefit Office know. Alternatively they might have sent a letter asking for specific information, and because you missed it, they stopped payments. If this is the case, contact them and ask what they need from you in order to restart payments,” explained Coles.

Do I need to tell HMRC anything else about my child benefit? 

If you are continuing to receive child benefit for a teenager who is 16 or over, you need to keep HMRC updated about any changes to your address, bank details, or if your child leaves school, college or training.

You can tell HMRC your child has left approved education or training by using the CH459 (opens in new tab) online form.

You should also let them know about any breaks in your child’s education or training, for example if they change college. This is because you might get child benefit during the break.

When your child leaves approved education or training, payments will stop at the end of February, 31 May, 31 August or 30 November, whichever comes first.

Ruth Emery is contributing editor at 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.