Benefits you're entitled to: working families
There's one thing we all know about benefits: they're about to be cut to the bone. In future, only the most needy will be entitled to government assistance, and even they may well receive less support than before.
These changes are on the near horizon - but at the moment, many generous benefits still remain in place. Yet a huge chunk of this cash goes unclaimed: the most recent estimates at the beginning of this year put the amount at £16.8 million.
So it's worth getting to grips with what's available now and what will be around in the future - and what you may be entitled to.
There are a number of benefits to help working families. Some are specifically aimed at families, while others apply to anyone on a low income.
Income support is intended for those over the age of 16 and under state pension age, who have a low income and work less than 16 hours a week. If you have a partner, only one of you can claim this benefit at any one time.
Income support isn't available for those who get jobseeker's allowance (JSA) or employment and support allowance, those who have savings over £16,000, or students in full-time education.
How it works...
Income support is made up of three parts - personal allowances; premiums; and payments to cover certain housing costs. The amount you earn will be taken into account when your payments are calculated.
Personal allowances, paid fortnightly, are £67.50 a week for those aged 25 and over (or 18 and over if you are a parent) and £53.45 for younger people. A couple will receive £105.95. There's a variety of premiums (although you can only claim one at a time), including disability premium, carer's premium, and a pension premium for the partners of pensioners.
The housing cost payments may include interest payments on mortgages or home improvement loans.
There are two types of tax credits: the child tax credit and working tax credit.
How they work...
You should be eligible for some child tax credits if you are responsible for at least one child and your household income is below the threshold.
The working tax credit is paid to anyone on a low income (regardless of whether they have children or not), as long as they work 16 hours a week (24 hours a week for couples). For parents, it includes a payment to help pay for up to 70% of childcare costs - up to a total of £175 a week for one child or £300 a week for two or more children.
The total you receive will depend on your income, how many children live with you, whether you have a partner, whether you work and how much work you do. Every situation will be different, but there are certain general limits.
If you have children, the threshold is less than £41,300. For single people without children, it's £12,900, and for couples without children, £17,700.
Each year, between April and June, the Tax Credit Office will write to ask you to confirm the amount you received the previous year and to state whether your circumstances have changed. You have to respond by 31 July.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS FOR THOSE ON LOW INCOMES
This benefit is to help meet your housing costs, and may pay for all your rental expenses if your income and assets are below the threshold (each local council sets its own).
If you're living with a partner, only one of you will qualify. If you're single and under 25, you'll only be entitled to enough benefit for a bedsit or a room in a shared property.
Since April 2011, a limit has been imposed on the maximum you can claim: £250 a week for a one-bedroom property; £290 for two bedrooms; £340 for three; and £400 for four. If a household needs more bedrooms, it will have to fund them itself.
Council Tax Benefit
The rules on income and circumstances will vary depending on your local council, but savings of over £16,000 will disqualify you, unless you're getting the 'guarantee credit' of pension credit.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS SOLELY FOR PARENTS
All three and four-year-olds are entitled to five two-and-a-half hour sessions of childcare a week, for three terms each year, with a registered provider.
This is paid to the parent or whoever is responsible for looking after the child. You'll receive £20.30 a week for the eldest and £13.40 for each younger child. The rate is frozen for the next three years.
If you're a single parent many of the same benefits apply. However, there are some additional rules. Income support may be available on the grounds that you're a low-earning lone parent, but it's likely to stop in the year your youngest child turns five.
Also, if you're taking part in the New Deal for Lone Parents programme and start part-time work of less than 16 hours a week, you can claim childcare costs.
Child tax credit
A scheme started in 2003 that sought to replace a raft of other tax credits and benefits, the payout depends on the number of dependant children in a family, and its level of income. The amount of credit is reduced as income increases. It is payable to the main carer of a child, usually the mother, and is available whether or not the recipient is working.