What is child benefit?
Child benefit is a monthly government payment to anyone who is responsible for a child to help pay for anything they need and boost your household budget. You don't necessarily need to be the child's parent to receive it, but note that it can only be paid to one person.
Depending on your income, you may not benefit financially from receiving child benefit payments. But it’s always worth signing up – even if you choose to opt out of receiving the payments – as the benefit is linked with National Insurance contributions, and could affect your eligibility to claim the state pension.
This guide explains how child benefit works, who is eligible to receive it and what the rates are.
Child benefit calculator
Use our child benefit calculator to find out how much you'll be paid, based on how many children you're responsible for, how much you earn and, if you have a partner, how much they earn.
This calculator has been updated for the 2019-20 tax year.
Video: child benefit explained
Our short video explains the basics of how child benefit works, who is eligible and what you need to know if your salary is more than £50,000.
Child benefit rates 2019-20
Eligibility for child benefit is not means-tested. The payments you receive aren’t based on how much you earn, but instead how many children you’re responsible for.
There’s a higher rate for the eldest (or only) child, and then additional lower rates for any younger children.
You will receive £20.70 a week for your eldest, or only, child, and £13.70 a week for each additional child. There is no upper limit for the number of children you can claim for.
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If your family separates, and your children are split between different households, the payment you receive will be based on the number of children in your care.
So, for instance, if one child goes to live with a partner and two children stay with you, you’ll receive child benefit for the two children you live with and your partner will receive the money for the one child they look after.
Child benefit rates are unchanged from 2018-19.
Child benefit if you earn above £50,000 a year
While child benefit isn’t means-tested, you'll pay an additional tax charge if you or your partner has an annual income over the £50,000 threshold, known as the 'high-income child benefit charge'.
HMRC defines a partner in this case to be someone you're not permanently separated from who you're married to or in a civil partnership with, or living together as if you were.
The threshold is based on the individual income of the highest earner. The tax charge must be paid by whoever earns the high salary via a self-assessment tax return.
The tax charge equates to 1% of the child benefit paid for every £100 of income between £50,000 and £60,000.
If either you or your partner earns more than £60,000, the tax means you’ll pay back your entire child benefit entitlement.
In this case it’s probably not worth claiming the payments, but it is still worth filling out the form to ensure you don’t miss out on National Insurance credits. Find out how to do this in our section on National Insurance.
If your income is £56,000 and you have one child, you will be paid £20.70 a week, or £1,076.40 a year.
Your income over £50,000 is £6,000, so you will be required to pay tax of 1% for every £100 over £50,000.
£6,000/100 is 60, so you will need to pay 60% of your child benefit back as a tax charge.
£1,076.40 x 60% = £645.84
Your tax charge will therefore be £645.84, leaving you with child benefit of £430.56.
- Get a head start on your 2018-19 tax return with the Which? Tax Calculator. Tot up your bill, get jargon-free, money-saving tips and submit your return direct to HMRC.
If you receive child benefit and aren't working, you will automatically qualify for National Insurance credits. These can build up your entitlement to the state pension.
For this reason, it is worth at least signing up for child benefit if you're staying home to care for children, even if your partner earns more than £60,000.
When you submit the claim, you can mark a tick box and choose not to receive payments. This will ensure you receive National Insurance credits, but won’t receive or be taxed on any money.
If you’ve missed out on National Insurance contributions as a result of not claiming child benefit, you can still fix the gaps in your record by making voluntary Class 3 contributions.
As of 2019-20, you will have to pay a flat rate of £15 a week for any gaps you fill between 2006 and April 2017.
- Find out more: National Insurance rates – information on voluntary Class 3 contributions
Who is eligible?
Anyone who is responsible for a child under 16, or under 20 and in an approved form of education or training, is eligible for child benefit.
Approved forms of education include A Levels, Scottish Highers, and NVQs, but not university degrees and BTEC Higher Nations Certificates. If the child is in education or training, they must have been accepted onto the course before they turn 19.
You’re usually considered as being responsible for a child if you live with them or you’re paying at least the same amount as child benefit (or the equivalent in kind) towards looking after them.
The illustration below shows the kind of eligible contributions you could be making.
If your child lives with someone else, you’ll usually get child benefit for eight weeks after they move away, if no one else claims within that time.
Payments can continue for longer if you make contributions towards the child’s upkeep, but you should contact the child benefit office to let them know that your circumstances have changed.
If your child goes into hospital for more than 12 weeks, or into care for more than eight weeks, then your child benefit payments may be stopped.
There are exceptions to this, such as if:
- children in care spend at least 24 hours a week at home
- you regularly spend money on your child while they’re in hospital
- your child is in hospital abroad, but you’re in the UK and regularly spending money on them.
How do you make a claim?
To claim, you need to fill in a Child Benefit claim form CH2 and send it to the child benefit office with the child’s original birth or adoption certificate.
You can either fill in the form onscreen or print it off to fill in by hand.
It can take up to 12 weeks to process a claim, and you can start claiming as soon as your child is born or comes to live with you.
If it’s taking a while to receive the birth or adoption certificate, you should still send in the claim form and then send the certificate separately when you have it.
If you’ve lost the birth or adoption certificate, you can order a new one online.
How to increase child benefit payments
There is a way for high earners to pay less tax on their child benefit payments.
When calculating how much child benefit must be repaid via the tax charge, your 'net-adjusted income' is taken into account. The net-adjusted income is what you have left after other deductions from your salary, such as pension contributions.
By making higher deductions, such as pension contributions, you can reduce your net-adjusted income and increase the amount of child benefit you'll receive.
Example of net-adjusted salary
Say you have one child and earn £55,000 a year, but you make pension contributions of 3%. Your net-adjusted salary is £53,350 (£55,000 - £1,650).
On a salary of £55,000, you'd pay a tax charge of £533, leaving you with £533 in child benefit.
But with your adjusted salary of £53,350, you'd pay a tax charge of £357.11, leaving you with £708.89 from the benefit.
If you earn more than £50,000, you could, therefore, consider increasing your pension contributions in order to lower your adjusted net income and increase the amount of child benefit you’re entitled to.
It is also possible to reduce your adjusted net income by making charitable donations through Gift Aid, or by offsetting dividend losses you've made in the stock market.
Find out more: tax relief on pension contributions explained
Changes in your child's circumstances
If there are changes to your family life, you need to tell the child benefit office as they could affect your child benefit payments.
Failing to do so may mean you don’t get all the money you’re entitled to, or you may be overpaid and will have to pay your money back at a later date.
You should contact the child benefit office if:
- the child stays in education or training after their 16th birthday
- the child later leaves education or training
- the child starts paid work for 24 hours a week or more
- the child will live elsewhere for eight weeks in a row or for more than 56 days in a 16-week period
- the child is going abroad for more than 12 weeks
- the child moves to or from Northern Ireland
- the child will be in hospital or residential care for more than 12 weeks
- the child dies
- the child changes their name
- the child goes missing
- the child gets married, forms a civil partnership or moves in with a partner
- the child gets benefits such as income support, job seeker’s allowance, universal credit, tax credits or employment and support allowance
- the child goes to prison for more than eight weeks.
You should include the date that the change took place.
Child benefit: your questions answered
How and when is child benefit paid?
Child benefit is usually paid every four weeks on a Monday or Tuesday.
It can be paid into any account, apart from a Nationwide CashBuilder account in someone else’s name.
The money can only be paid into one account, rather than split into several.
If you’re a single parent and/or on other benefits such as income support, you can have the money paid weekly.
What if my family has split or joined together with another family?
If a family splits up, you’ll get £20.70 per week for the eldest child that stays with you – this can be for the mother, father or anyone else who is responsible for the child.
If you have two children, and one goes to live with each parent, both parents will receive £20.70 per week for the child that lives with them.
If two families join together, one parent can claim child benefit for the children living there. They’ll receive £20.70 per week for the eldest child in the household, and £13.70 each for any other children living at the same address.
Can child benefit be backdated?
Child benefit can be backdated for up to three months.
If you have a new baby or child coming to live with you, it’s worth making your claim straightaway to make sure you don’t miss out on any payments, as new claims can take up to 12 weeks to be dealt with.
Where can I find my child benefit number?
Your child benefit number will be on your child benefit award notice and on any paperwork you receive from the child benefit office.
It starts with ‘CHB’ followed by a string of eight numbers and two letters.
If you still can’t find your number, contact the child benefit office.
If you’re making a new claim, or informing about a change in circumstances, you can usually use your child benefit number as proof that you qualify for child benefit.
If you need more proof than this, you can also use:
- child benefit award notice
- latest tax credit awards notice
- a bank statement showing child benefit being paid into your account.
You can't get written proof of child benefit from the child benefit office.
What if I’ve been overpaid?
You can be paid too much child benefit if you don’t report a change in your circumstances.
If you think you’ve been paid too much child benefit, contact the child benefit office as soon as possible. Anyone who's found to have knowingly received too much child benefit without reporting it could be prosecuted.
If you’ve been paid too much child benefit, you’ll receive a letter from the child benefit office to inform you of the overpayment – as well as what caused it, whether you have to pay the money back and how to appeal if you think it’s incorrect.
If you do owe overpayments, you’ll receive a payslip with the bank account details of where to send your payment.
You’ll usually have to pay a lump sum, but if you need to organise repayments or need extra time to pay, contact HMRC on 0300 055 0718.
What’s the difference between child benefit and child tax credit?
Child benefit is a non-means-tested benefit available to everyone who is responsible for a child (although the amount you’ll receive will be taxed if you earn more than £50,000).
Child tax credits are means-tested, and in 2019-20 you can only claim them if you earn £16,105 or less.
The amount you receive depends on different ‘elements’, such as how many children you have and whether any of the children are considered to be disabled.
Any existing tax credit claimants will be moved to Universal Credit by July 2019 – this may take place earlier, depending on where you live.
Find out more: child tax credits – see our full guide and whether you’re eligible to claim
Will child benefit be part of Universal Credit?