HMRC staff are routinely failing to follow relevant guidance when dealing with child benefit claims in respect of young people aged 16 and over who are continuing in home education, according to concerned parents and support organisations.
Even in cases where well informed parents have advised the Child Benefit office of their continuing entitlement due to their child’s ongoing, non advanced, full-time home educated status, the benefit has still been withdrawn with immediate effect and without reference to the Full Time Education Section (FTES) which determines eligibility.
Despite home educating parents fulfilling the continuing eligibility criteria for receipt of this universal benefit, and contrary to the child benefit regulations for home educators, we have been hearing from many families whose payments have been suspended without notice, leading to stress, anxiety and financial hardship in some cases.
Although payments have been reinstated following case by case investigation, we remain concerned that front line HMRC staff are failing to properly assess the eligibility of home educating parents whose young people have turned 16, since they appear to have no access to accurate information about the applicable criteria. The problem is compounded by the fact that call centre staff are either unable or unwilling to transfer calls to FTES staff who are already aware of the issue and its disproportionate impact on a small but growing minority of parents.
Following our recent call to the HMRC press office, one case was re-examined and resolved within the hour, but concern remains about the seemingly routine withdrawal of child benefit in respect of home educated children post-16 who are continuing in non-advanced, full-time education.
As long as the fundamental problem remains unresolved, we believe that a significant number of home educating parents who are unaware of the regulations will lose out on the child benefit to which they remain fully entitled because they will simply accept that they are not eligible, having been told so by inadequately trained call centre staff rather than the FTES.
It is an added burden for home educating parents to have to pursue their genuine entitlement until their benefit is reinstated, if indeed they are aware of the rules in the first place. All parents should surely be given accurate information at first point of contact and not have to battle it out on a case-by-case basis, especially when home education is not the rarity it once was.