The Two Child Limit on Tax Credits in NI  Open to Challenge

01 December 2017

 

Controversial changes to Child Tax Credits introduced in April 2017 are having an impact of some of our society’s most vulnerable.

We have set out below a brief introduction to the new ‘2 child limit’ on Tax Credits and advice on how to challenge it. 

 

What is the ‘'two child limit’?

Child Tax Credits are available to parents who are both in and out of work and serve to “top up” those with low incomes and make work pay.   

The original aim of Child Tax Credits was to tackle child poverty.  Prior to April 2017, there had been no limit on the number of children that could be claimed for. The new ‘two child’ limit is a rule restricting parents from claiming Tax Credits for any more than 2 children. After 6th April 2017, any third or subsequent child born will no longer be eligible to receive support, subject to limited exemptions.

One such exemption is where a claimant can show an additional child was conceived through non-consensual sex. This has become known as “the rape clause” and requires a claimant to disclose and prove that she has been raped in order for the child to be supported.

Who is affected by this change?

All claimants whose third and subsequent children are born on or after 6th April 2017 are affected by the new limit.  In fact, The Guardian reported that a child born on 6th April 2017 would be approximately £50,000 worse off throughout their life than a child born on 5th April 2017.  

It has been estimated that throughout the UK, 250,000 children will be forced into poverty by 2020 as a result of this rule. Northern Ireland families are larger than they are in Great Britain, so the policy will have a disproportionate impact on child poverty here. The Children’s Society has estimated that 33,000 families in Northern Ireland will be affected, and 63% of working families will have less income as a result.  

Many faith leaders have condemned the policy stating that it is “fundamentally anti- family” and “anti-Christian”. Some have even suggested that it may cause increased abortions; while those who are opposed to abortion for moral or religious reasons may be disproportionately affected.  A coalition of the UK’s biggest churches have spoken out about the policy and expressed concern for children of parents who are bereaved or fleeing domestic violence.  The policy may affect families of certain faiths more, such as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews who traditionally have larger families.

There are concerns that lone parents may also be disproportionately affected, as will those who have adopted children or taken on children as a kinship carer before having a child of their own as their own child will then not qualify.

There has been widespread condemnation and concern about the damaging impact the “rape clause” will have on victims of rape and their children. There are particular repercussions in Northern Ireland where it is an offence not to report a crime to the police. Many Human Rights and Women’s groups have criticised the policy which they say could criminalise women and any 3rd party involved such as social workers and health professionals as well as impoverish children.  Women’s Aid have said that the policy will re-traumatise women, force them to a choice between poverty or stigmatising their child and exacerbate the complex problems already faced by victims of rape.

Women’s groups have also expressed concern about numerous aspects of the “coercion or control” exemption. This means third or subsequent children conceived as a result of a controlling and coercive relationships fall within an exempt group, however for this exception to apply, the claimant needs to confirm she is no longer living with the alleged perpetrator. It has been said that forcing women to leave such a relationship could have incredibly dangerous consequences, particularly whilst they are pregnant or with a new baby. The exemption has attracted criticism generally because the many complexities of controlling and coercive relationships and how difficult and damaging it may be to prove this.

Financial insecurity is itself a barrier to leaving an abusive partner and the two-child limit has been widely criticised by organisations such as Women’s Aid.

All of the above represent potential human rights breaches and may also give rise to possible discrimination claims.

What action can be taken?

In the first instance, your decision can be challenged by asking the Department for Communities to look at your decision again.  This is known as a “mandatory reconsideration”.  The Child Poverty Action Group have produced a template which can be adapted http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/two-child-limit-challenge

You should contact an Advice Centre or solicitor if you require help with this process. If you are still unhappy, you should obtain legal advice on whether you could challenge the decision through the Courts.

There have been many recent cases in Great Britain where aspects of welfare reform have been successfully overturned by the Courts.  Due to the particular issues affecting claimants in Northern Ireland, cases should be brought locally to provide clarity on and hopefully changes to, how the law is applied here.

At Francis Hanna & Co , we are experienced in Social Security Law and can assist and advice you in this complicated area.  As many benefits claimants will be eligible for Legal Aid, you may be able to access legal advice at no cost to you for any advice given. It is possible to bring a case anonymously and any contact with our offices will be treated in strictest confidence.

Should you require further information, advice or assistance, please contact Laura Banks at lbanks@fhanna.co.uk or call our office on 028 9024 3901