What benefits can I claim if I’m divorcing or separating?

If you’re divorcing or separating from your partner and your income has dropped, there are some benefits you could claim as a single person. You might also qualify for benefits if you’re now a lone parent and your children live with you all or most of the time. 

Universal Credit if you’re divorcing or separating

If you’re looking for work or on a low income, you might be able to claim Universal Credit.

Universal Credit can help you cover the costs of housing, children and childcare.

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How Universal Credit replaces existing benefits

Many of the benefits you would have been able to claim if you’re divorcing or separating are being replaced by Universal Credit.

These include:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) call these legacy benefits. Most people will now be asked to claim for Universal Credit instead.

If you’re already getting any of the benefits listed above and your partner or spouse leaves the family home, you’ll have to tell the DWP or HMRC.

You might now have to claim Universal Credit – and be assessed either as a single person or a lone parent.

How Universal Credit affects you if you are a lone parent

If you qualify for Universal Credit you’ll usually be put into one of four groups, depending on the age of your children:

Age of child
Work requirement

Youngest child is under one

No work-related requirement 

Youngest child is aged one

Work-focused interview only

Youngest child is aged two

Work preparation requirement

Youngest child is aged three or above

All work-related requirement

While your youngest child is aged two or under, you’ll only have to think about what you might need to do to get back into work. You might have to go to interviews to discuss what jobs you might apply for, or look at improving your skills. For example, you might consider extra training or getting your CV ready ahead of applying for jobs.

When your youngest child reaches three, you’ll be expected to look for work if you’re not already working. It’s important to talk to your work coach about what work is realistic for you. This needs to be based on your caring responsibilities and other things, such as the time you need to drop off or pick up from school or childcare.

Age of child
Hours of work or job hunting

Aged three until starting full-time school

16 hours a week

After they start full-time school to aged 13

25 hours a week

Aged 13 or above

35 hours a week. You can still ask for this to be changed if there is a good reason for doing so

When you’ve agreed what you’ll to do to find or prepare for work – this will form part of your claimant commitment. If you don’t keep to what’s been agreed, you could be sanctioned. This means you could lose all or some of your benefit for a few weeks.

If you will need help with childcare costs, you can claim up to 85% of the fees up to a certain limit.

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Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

If you’re available for work, have paid enough National Insurance contributions and worked for two full tax years before claiming – you might be able to get New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). You’ll be able to claim this as well as Universal Credit if you need extra help with things like housing costs or bringing up children.

If you don’t qualify to claim New Style JSA and are available for work, you might be able to claim the basic allowance of Universal Credit instead.

Employment and Support Allowance

If you’re not able to work because of illness or disability, you might be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you’ve paid enough National Insurance contributions.

You can claim this as well as Universal Credit if you’re on a low income, and you also need help with housing costs or bringing up children.

If you don’t qualify for New Style ESA you might be able to claim the ‘limited capability for work’ and the ‘work-related activity’ elements of Universal Credit.

Help with housing costs if you’re divorcing or separating

If you’re renting and not already claiming Housing Benefit, you’ll have to make a claim for the housing costs element of Universal Credit.

If you’re already getting Housing Benefit and your partner or spouse leaves the family home, you’ll have to tell your local council about this change. 

You might now have to claim Universal Credit. You’ll continue to get Housing Benefit for two weeks after your Universal Credit claim starts – this helps to reduce the risk of rent arrears.

If you’re a homeowner and getting certain means-tested benefits – such as Universal Credit – you might be able to claim Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI).

SMI is paid as a loan, which you have to pay back. There are different ways you can do this.

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Council Tax Reduction

If you’re now the only adult not in full-time education in your household, you’ll probably qualify for a single person’s discount (25%) on your Council Tax bill.

You might get help paying your Council Tax if you’re getting some benefits, such as or Universal Credit. You’ll need to apply to your local council.

In England and Wales, find your local council on the GOV.UK website

In Scotland, find your local council on the mygov.scot website

In Northern Ireland, find out about rates on the nidirect website

Child Benefit if you’re divorcing or separating

How to change who Child Benefit is paid to

If you’re divorcing or separating, you might need to update your details for Child Benefit.

Child Benefit can only be paid to one person, and it’s important it’s paid to the main carer. This is usually the parent your child or children live with most of the time.

If your ex-partner is receiving the Child Benefit payment, you might not get the money unless they pass it on voluntarily.

You can update who gets Child Benefit, and report a change of circumstances, on the GOV.UK website

Or you can call the Child Benefit Office on:

Telephone: 0300 200 3100
Outside UK: +44 161 210 3086

(Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm)

Child Benefit if you’re now earning less than £50,000

If you or your partner was earning over £50,000 and you received Child Benefit – you should have been paying back a part of it in extra Income Tax.

If your income is now below £50,000 as a lone parent, and you’re still getting Child Benefit, tell the Child Benefit Office about this change.

If you had chosen not to receive Child Benefit, so your ex-partner didn’t have to pay the extra tax, you can make a claim for payment with the Child Benefit Office if you're now the main carer and your child or children live with you most of the time.

If you’re not claiming Child Benefit

If for any reason you weren’t claiming Child Benefit before, but you now want to, it’s important you apply as soon as possible. This is because it can take up to 12 weeks to process a claim.

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How does child maintenance affect your benefit payments?

Child maintenance isn’t counted as income for means-tested benefits such as Universal Credit.

This means if you’re getting maintenance, you won’t get less money in these benefits. Other benefits that aren’t means-tested won’t be affected either.

If you have to pay child maintenance

If you’re the parent paying child maintenance and you get certain benefits, you’ll have to pay £7 a week out of your benefits if the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or Child Support Agency (CSA) make the maintenance arrangement.

If you make a family-based arrangement, you and the other parent can agree what you should pay out of your benefits.

If you’re making a benefit claim, it’s important to always report your child maintenance arrangements to your Jobcentre Plus Office. Do this even if you don’t think it will affect your claim.

Protect yourself against financial abuse

Everyone has the right to financial independence. If your partner is controlling your money or running up debts in your name, it’s financial abuse. But there’s no need to struggle on alone.

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Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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