2016 Round Up

A year of developments for parents

It is almost the end of the year and soon we will be welcoming in 2017!

2016 has been a year to remember for many reasons; this article runs down through each of the main developments which have impacted on parents and families over the last 12 months.

January – Welfare reform mitigation measures for NI agreed

The issue of Welfare Reform almost collapsed the Assembly in 2015. However, as part of the negotiations it was agreed that Northern Ireland would have the power to implement a number of mitigation measures to lessen the blow for local people. In January measures which included a range of supplementary payments, over a four year period, to carers, those with ill health or disability and families affected by the welfare changes were agreed.

For more information download the Welfare Reform in NI factsheet.

February – Statistics show that 3.7 million couples fail to claim Marriage Allowance

In February Government figures revealed that 3.7 million couples were failing to claim Marriage Allowance despite being eligible for the tax saving.

Marriage Allowance enables couples who are working and not using their full tax-free allowance to transfer up to £1,060 of that allowance to their spouse or civil partner, provided they pay tax at the basic rate. Through the Marriage Allowance you may be able to reduce your husband, wife or civil partner’s tax by up to £212 over the year.

For more information download the Marriage Allowance factsheet.

March – Childcare Vouchers deadline extended to April 2018

As part of his last Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced that the Childcare Voucher scheme will remain open to new entrants until April 2018. Originally the scheme was due to close in 2017, coinciding with the launch of Tax-Free Childcare. This was good news as it will give parents time to decide which scheme is best for their circumstances.

After April 2018 only parents who are still using Childcare Vouchers will continue to benefit from the scheme.

April – Changes to Tax Credits implemented and Shared Parental Leave turns one!

The first round of changes to Tax Credits were introduced in April. This marked the beginning of the four year freeze to the rate of Tax Credits. In addition, the Income Rise Disregard, the amount by which a person’s income can increase in-year (compared to the previous year) before the award is adjusted, was cut in half, from £5,000 to just £2,500.

As well as changes to Tax Credits, April marked the one year anniversary of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). SPL allows new parents to share up to 50 weeks leave between themselves after the birth of a baby. However, figures released to mark SPL’s anniversary showed low take up. For more information on SPL download the Shared Parental Leave Rights for parents factsheet.

 May – Benefit Cap introduced to Northern Ireland

In May the Benefit Cap, which limits the total amount of benefits a household can receive, was introduced. Initially a single parent or couple had a limit of £500 per week. In November it decreased to £384.62 per week.

For more information read As the Benefit Cap lowers – will you be affected?

June – Employers For Childcare launches Childcare Choices research and the First Time Parent’s Guide to Choosing Childcare

Our Childcare Choices report explored over 1,000 local parents’ experiences of looking for childcare for the first time. To help first time parents who are looking for childcare we developed the Choosing Childcare guide.

July – Universal Credit delay announced

It was announced that Universal Credit, which will combine six existing benefits, including Tax Credits and Housing Benefit, into one will now not be introduced to Northern Ireland until September 2017.

For more information on Universal Credit and how it will impact you see our Universal Credit factsheet.

August – Childcare Providers contacted about Tax-Free Childcare

In August HMRC began to contact Childcare Providers about the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme, which will roll out from early 2017. The letter provided information about the new scheme and informed childcare providers that later in the year they would be invited to register with HMRC to accept payment through Tax-Free Childcare accounts.

Download the Tax-Free Childcare factsheet for more information.

September – Employers For Childcare celebrates local Family Friendly Employers

Employers For Childcare’s Annual Family Friendly Employer Awards recognise and reward employers who go above and beyond legal requirements to provide and actively promote family friendly working practices.

Click here to see our 2016 winners and download our How to be a Family Friendly Employer Guide.

October – Online Childcare Savings Calculator launched

From next year the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme will be launched for families. The Childcare Voucher scheme will remain open until April 2018. To help parents work out which type of support is best for their family, Employers For Childcare launched the online Childcare Savings Calculator

November – Childcare costs in Northern Ireland rise to £168 per week

The seventh annual Northern Ireland Childcare Cost Survey showed that childcare costs have increased over the last year. With many parents turning to other means, and most concerning payday loans, to meet their childcare bill, Employers For Childcare refreshes our call on local politicians to invest in childcare.

December – Looking forward

Next year has more in store for parents, see our run down of things to look out for in 2017.

Don’t forget…

Our Family Benefits Advice Service is here to provide advice, information and personalised benefits and entitlement checks for all local parents. Get in touch or to speak to one of our advisors in confidence, call free on 028 9267 8200.