Schoolhouse is urging the Child Benefit office to “fix its broken record” of consistently failing to “get it right for every child” after receiving more complaints from parents who have had the entitlement automatically withdrawn for their home educated children on reaching the age of 16.
Child benefit remains payable in respect of young people continuing in home education beyond the age of 16, subject to eligibility criteria, the details of which are posted on the Schoolhouse website. Such continuation claims should always be dealt with by the Full Time Education Section (FTES), which efficiently administers them, but Schooolhouse is still regularly contacted by home educating parents whose child benefit payments have been automatically stopped on their child’s 16th birthday, despite fulfilling the relevant criteria.
A Schoolhouse spokesperson said:
“Parents whose child benefit has been wrongly withdrawn for their home educated children as soon as they turn 16 are not only suffering financial hardship, but are also finding it impossible to get past the ‘broken record’ script used by frontline staff when they call to query the decision.
“To add insult to injury, some parents have reported extreme rudeness on the part of call centre staff who routinely fail to ensure their claims are processed by the appropriate department.”
Last September, Schoolhouse flagged up a report concerning a terminally ill child for whom child benefit was wrongly withdrawn because she had reached 16 and was not attending school or college but was nevertheless continuing in home education. Her local MP John Woodcock had taken up the case with HMRC, seeking reinstatement on exceptional grounds, which prompted Schoolhouse to point out to him that it should never have been withdrawn in the first place as the eligibility criteria were already fulfilled. While no acknowledgement was ever received from the MP, the benefit was reinstated.
One Schoolhouse member wrote to the charity this week outlining her recent experience of dealing with the Child Benefit office:
“I wrote a long and detailed letter to the full time education section at the beginning of December. I hadn’t heard anything so phoned the helpline again just before Chrismas. I spoke to another “advisor” who was every bit as rude as the first one.
“I still hadn’t heard so phoned the helpline again on Monday (7th January). This time I was fortunate enough to speak to a civil, helpful human being who forwarded my information to the full time education section.
“This afternoon (9th January) I received a phone call from a very nice lady from the full time education section who advised me child benefit would be reinstated, that I would receive a review letter next January and that I would continue to receive child benefit after that if my son is still home educated.
“It’s a disgrace that some of the helpline advisors choose to be not only unhelpful but down right nasty and rude.”
Describing their member’s experience as “far from uncommon and entirely unsatisfactory”, the Schoolhouse spokesperson continued:
“We feel strongly that parents should not have to struggle, sometimes to the point of involving their MP, to obtain their rightful entitlement just because they are exercising a lawful choice to home educate their children after the age of 16 .
“Despite being alerted to the problem on many occasions over many years by ourselves and other home education organisations, HMRC has allowed this unsatisfactory state of affairs to go on for too long. It’s high time the Child Benefit office was ordered to fix its broken record.”