This blog is about home education issues and from time to time I will look at political developments which are likely to have a particular impact on home educating parents, including changes to benefit regulations for families with young children.
In the Budget speech the Chancellor George Osborne said:
“To make sure work pays for parents, I can confirm that, from September 2017 all working parents of 3 and 4 year olds will receive free childcare of up to 30 hours a week.
As a result we now expect parents with a youngest child aged 3, including lone parents, to look for work if they want to claim Universal Credit.”
This is being reported in some quarters as ‘all parents of 3 year olds will have to get a job’, with some commentators appearing to believe it will take effect almost immediately, and others thinking it applies to everyone from September 2017.
I was asked on Twitter how it would pan out in Scotland, given the different arrangements for childcare in Scotland.
This caused me to dig around a bit because the penny suddenly dropped, maybe there needs to be wiggle room in the legislation given that eg the Childcare Bill won’t apply there.
Almost by accident, from looking into this I think I’ve found some uncertainty around the start date WITHIN England (and Wales) quite apart from Scotland.
The proposed legislation does in fact implicitly allow for differences between countries in the United Kingdom.
There is also the potential in the legislation for non-standard introduction within England.
One way this could play out would be for some areas to trial or pilot ‘look for work when the youngest child is 3’ before September 2017.
An alternative scenario would be a staggered start after September 2017.
The absence of specific dates is noticeable in the wording of ‘Commencement’ at the end of the new Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
I interpret the ‘Commencement’ section as allowing the possibility that there may NOT be a universal rollout of the ‘look for work when youngest child is 3’ measure.
The current provision for a ‘work preparation requirement’ when the youngest child is between 3 and 5 is contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 section 20 and section 21 as modified by Regulation 91A.
It covers the stage between 1/ claimants just coming into the JobCentre for interviews and 3/ actively having to seek work or lose benefit.
It applies to Income Support and Universal Credit.
Regulation 91A is not found in the publicly available version of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 but was added by the Income Support (Work-Related Activity) and Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2014 [Link] which in turn amended Regulation 91 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Regulation 91A says
(3) After regulation 91, insert—
“Claimants subject to work preparation requirement
91A. For the purposes of section 21(1)(b) of the Act (claimants subject to work preparation requirement), the claimant is of a prescribed description if the claimant is the responsible carer for a child aged 3 or 4.”
The day after the Budget the Government published the Welfare and Work Reform Bill.
The Welfare and Work Reform Bill 15 (2) (b) Universal credit: work-related requirements says “regulation 91A (claimants subject to work preparation requirement) is revoked”
This means that instead of a ‘work preparation requirement’ when the youngest child is 3, the claimant will be required actively to look for work, because the same conditions will apply as currently apply to parents whose youngest child is 5.
To find out when this will kick in, we need to look at the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 25 Commencement which details when various bits of the legislation will come into force.
Crucially, there is no specific commencement date for section 15, therefore it defaults to 25 (6) which says:
The remaining provisions of this Act come into force on such day or days as the
Secretary of State may by regulations appoint.
(7) Regulations under subsection (3), (5) or (6) may—
(a) appoint different days for different areas;
(b) appoint different days for different cases or purposes.
(8) Regulations under subsection (3), (5) or (6) may make such transitional or
transitory provision or savings as the Secretary of State considers necessary or
expedient in connection with the coming into force of the provisions to which they relate.
I interpret 25 Commencement as allowing the possibility that there may NOT be a universal start date for the ‘look for work when youngest child is 3’ measure.
As Universal Credit is designed to replace Tax Credits, this will also become relevant to the 2nd parent in a 2 parent household.
When Universal Credit is brought in for couples with children, the claim will be made by a nominated parent for the family as a whole. Working Tax Credits will no longer be an option. If the “lead carer'” is employed or self-employed but claims the UC in-work subsidy because of low earnings, the parent who is not the “lead carer” will be expected to look for a job as one of the conditions for the household receiving Universal Credit.