Child Tax Credits: The changes you need to know about

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of reporting around the planned child tax credit changes, and the protests by Scottish SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, about their “medieval” nature. However, when looking at the details behind the proposals, it’s unsurprising that the Government and George Osbourne are attracting such a lot of negative attention.

The changes surround eligibility for child tax credits, which will see a two-child limit placed on parents in terms of how many children they are able to claim for. At Hylton-Potts, we handle queries from families on a daily basis who have concerns about their child tax credits, so we understand completely the impact this will have on thousands of people across the UK.

Do you understand though? Hopefully, this blog post should explain everything for you. We’ll discuss what the changes are, why they’re important, and why so many people are protesting them, so that you’ll be able to separate the facts from the fiction.

What are the proposed changes and why are they important?

In April of last year, George Osborne announced an ambitious plan to cut £12billion from the annual welfare bill, and as a result, there were several cuts that caused a lot of outrage. One such cut was the news that child tax credits would only be paid for the first two children in each family, as of April 2017.

This limitation on tax credits would not have been as widely publicized if it were not for the government exception to the rule, should the third child have been conceived through rape. This has recently been referred to the United Nations panel, and it has prompted several groups to question it. Specifically, there is a great amount of concern regarding the processes that would be put in place to prove this exemption.

According to the Guardian, the SNP is particularly concerned that for those women who conceive after rape will have to offer proof of the crime in order to qualify for the suggested exemption to the two-child rule. Scottish SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, took her complaint straight to the UN, in the hope of getting the Government to change their plan. She described the “rape clause” as “medieval”, acting to “stigmatise mother and child”.

The crucial factor here is how such a limitation would impact on the life of the child in question. In a response to Thewliss, the UN claimed it had asked the UK government to provide evidence on whether it had carried out an impact assessment into this factor.

The UN also asked for information on “the measures being taken to mitigate negative impact of this reform on the enjoyment of the rights of children, particularly those in vulnerable situations”. Expected to deliver its final recommendations to the UK this month, we are yet to find out whether or not the UK government has provided sufficient evidence to support its proposed changes, and ensure the safety and rights of children.

Of course, if the government were to water down these changes beyond recognition due to the level of opposition it has received, it would not be the first time. For example, it was recently decided that thousands of kinship carers (adults who look after the children of relatives to prevent them being taken into care) would be exempted from the two-child benefit limit.

With this in mind, Alison Thewliss also highlighted another group of people who are currently protesting the changes to child tax credits. She warned that it could “risk discriminating against those who may for religious or traditional reasons have larger families”.

Why are people protesting them?

Aside from the above protests over the extent to which a woman would have to prove that a rape crime was committed, faith leaders have also criticised the plans as being “anti-family”. In an alliance of UK’s biggest churches and Jewish groups, they claimed that the government plans could split up families, drive up abortion and even put pressure on victims of domestic violence to stay in an abusive relationship.

A recent report by the Telegraph stated how, aside from arguing that the Conservative plans could break up families, this religious coalition also claims that the two-child limit is insensitive to the likes of ultraorthodox Jews or traditionalist Roman Catholics, who have larger families for religious reasons. They claim, in a briefing paper that was sent to all members of the House of Lords, that the policy goes against the belief that children are a blessing rather than a burden.

Aside from religious grounds, the UN must also consider how these changes will affect families on low incomes. Regardless of the reasoning, parents could find themselves bringing a third child into the family, but now unable to make ends meet, and possibly left considering abortion. Or, families will have the impossible choice of suffering hardship or placing their baby into care.

What can you do?

While many of these concerns are potentially extreme measures that will hopefully only affect a small minority of parents, they are still very real situations, and undoubtedly must form part of the decision made by the UN about the Government’s reforms. The Department for Work and Pensions also recently told the press that they understand the issue is sensitive, and that the ministry would “develop appropriate exemptions and protections”.

They said: “We want to make sure this support is compassionate and effective, which is why we are engaging with MPs and working with a range of stakeholders, including religious groups, to ensure this exemption is delivered in the best way possible.” Only time will tell at this stage how true this is.

Although these changes may seem worrying on the surface though, the important thing to remember is that everyone’s circumstances are different, so it’s always best to get in touch with the experts if you want to know where you stand.

At Hylton-Potts, we have helped many families with their child tax credit overpayments, benefit fraud investigations and so on. No matter what changes the Government introduces in future, you can always put your confidence in our legal team; we’re here to answer all of your questions with friendly advice, and allay any concerns you might have. If you have any queries over child tax credit, or any other benefit issue, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our experts. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or via email at [email protected].

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