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Communtity Law Manual | Work & Income | You have younger children (under 14)

Types of benefits

You have younger children (under 14)

If you’re an adult (20 or older) caring for children under the age of 14, you can apply for Sole Parent Support. There’s a different benefit for teenage parents, called the Young Parent Payment. These are both explained below.

People looking after other people’s children can apply for the Unsupported Child’s Benefit, if there’s been a family breakdown, or the Orphan’s Benefit, if the child’s parents are dead or disabled (see below, “You’re caring for someone else’s child (Unsupported Child’s Benefit and Orphan’s Benefit)”s).

If you’re getting one of those main benefits, there are a number of additional payments you may be able to get, including the Child Disability Allowance to help with any ongoing disability costs your child has and different forms of assistance with childcare costs. These are explained below in this section.

Adult parents with younger children (Sole Parent Support)

Who qualifies for Sole Parent Support?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 29, 30, 33

You’ll qualify for Sole Parent Support if you meet all the following criteria:

  • you’re the sole parent of a child under the age of 14
  • you’re 20 or older
  • you’re not living with the child’s other parent, and
  • you’re not living with and aren’t being supported by a partner (living with a partner will disqualify you from getting Sole Parent Support, even if they aren’t supporting you).

If you’re the sole parent of a child aged 14 or older, or if you have a partner and dependent children of any age, you’ll qualify for Jobseeker Support, not Sole Parent Support.

Will I have to look for work?

Social Security Act 2018, Sched 2 (definitions of “part-time work”, “work-tested benefit”, “work-tested sole parent support beneficiary”), ss 121–125

If your youngest child is three or older but under 14, you’ll face a part-time work-test, which means you’ll be required to be available for and looking for part-time work (at least 20 hours a week).

If your youngest child is under three, Work and Income may require you to do work preparation activities from time to time, such as training or education.

What if I have shared or split custody?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 32, 195, 196

If you and the other parent have shared custody of your children (that is, if each child lives with each parent for at least 40 percent of the time), then only one parent can qualify for Sole Parent Support. If both parents apply for Sole Parent Support, Work and Income will decide which of you has the greater responsibility for the children. Any benefit the other parent qualifies for, such as Jobseeker Support, will not be at a sole-parent rate.

If you and the other parent have split custody of your children (that is, if each of you is the main (“principal”) caregiver of one or more of the children), then only one of you will qualify for Sole Parent Support. Work and Income will decide which parent it will be. The other parent can have the children for whom they are the main caregiver included on their benefit (for example Jobseeker Support), but won’t qualify for Sole Parent Support.

However, an exception to this applies if you have split custody under a Family Court order awarding each of you day-to-day care of one or more of the children. In that case both parents will qualify for Sole Parent Support.

What happens if I have another child while on the benefit?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 222–224

If another child comes into your household while you’re on Sole Parent Support, then from the date of that child’s first birthday, Work and Income will usually ignore this additional child for the purposes of determining whether you must be available for and looking for part-time work (the “part-time work test”) and whether you continue to qualify for Sole Parent Support (rather than Jobseeker Support).

Instead it will be the age of the youngest of your other children that determines these things. It makes no difference whether you’ve had a new baby or whether you’ve begun caring for someone else’s child.

Here are two examples:

  • If, when you begin receiving Sole Parent Support, you have a child aged seven, you’ll be required to be available for and looking for part-time work, because you have a child aged three or older. If a year later you give birth to another child, then for the first 12 months Work and Income won’t require you to be available for and looking for part-time work; after the new child’s first birthday, however, you’ll have to meet the part-time work test again.
  • If, when you begin receiving Sole Parent Support, you have a child who has just turned 12, you’ll be required to be available for and looking for part-time work. If 18 months later you begin caring for a relative’s daughter aged two, Work and Income will usually ignore this new child (because she’s already had her first birthday), which means you’ll still be required to meet the part-time work test even though you are now caring for a child under three. Further, when your older child turns 14 in six months’ time, you’ll be transferred to Jobseeker Support and will have to be available for and looking for full-time work.

In some cases, a new child will be ignored even from birth for the purposes of qualifying for Sole Parent Support. This applies if you have an additional child sometime after being transferred to Jobseeker Support:

  • from the old Domestic Purposes Benefit on 15 July 2013 (when the new benefits were introduced) because your youngest child was 14 or older, or
  • from Sole Parent Support because your youngest child turned 14.

However, Work and Income has a discretion to take an additional child into account despite the rules set out above, if:

  • it’s satisfied that, in the particular case, this would best achieve the purpose of those rules, which is to “improve the financial and social outcomes for families that include people to whom [these provisions] apply by providing earlier access to employment services and expectations, while recognising the care and development needs of children”, or
  • there are circumstances beyond your control that make it inappropriate or unreasonable to not take the additional child into account.

Other obligations when getting Sole Parent Support

  • Drug-testing – If you’re required to be available for and looking for part-time work, you’ll also be subject to drug-testing obligations. These are the same as for Jobseeker Support (see “Qualifying for JobSeeker Support / Drug testing” above in this section).
  • “Social obligations” for parents – All beneficiaries who are parents are also subject to a number of what are called “social obligations”, which include, for example, making sure that from age three your children attend pre-school or school (see below, “Extra ‘social obligations’ for parents on benefits”).

Will I have to identify the other parent?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 192–194 (repealed)

No. You can refuse to identify them, and this will not affect the benefit payments you receive.

Until 1 April 2020, Work and Income were allowed to cut your benefit by $22 for each child if you didn’t identify the other parent – unless you came under an exception (for example, if you’d be at risk of violence if you identified them). Those laws were repealed in April 2020.

Challenging decisions about Sole Parent Support

If Work and Income refuse your application for Sole Parent Support, or impose a sanction (penalty) on you while you’re on this benefit, you can apply for a review by a Benefit Review Committee (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).

Teenage parents (Young Parent Payment)

Social Security Act 2018, ss 17, 56, 57, 59, 60–62, Sched 4

If you’re under 20 and have a child, you may qualify for the Young Parent Payment. You will usually have to be in full-time education or training (or be available for it).

Qualifying for the Young Parent Payment

Social Security Act 2018, ss 56, 59

If you’re a single parent, you must meet the activity requirements for this benefit (see below, “Activity requirements for Young Parent Payment”) and you must also be:

  • aged 18 or 19, or
  • aged 16 or 17 and living with, or being supported financially by, your parents, whose income must be less than a certain amount, or
  • aged 16 or 17, not living with your parents, and in “exceptional circumstances” – for example, your relationship with your parents has broken down. The same rules apply here as for the Youth Payment (see “Showing ‘exceptional circumstances’ if you’re single”, under “You’re at school or in training (16 and 17 year olds)”).

    Social Security Act 2018, s 56

The requirements are different if you are (or were) married or in a civil union or de facto relationship with your parents’ permission. In that case, you will qualify for the Young Parent Payment if:

  • you’re a parent aged 16, 17, 18 or 19, and
  • you meet the activity requirements (see below), and
  • you’re not in a relationship with someone who in their own right is receiving Jobseeker Support, the Supported Living Payment for sickness, injury or disability, or the Emergency Benefit. (If you have a partner who’s working, this doesn’t disqualify you from getting this benefit, but if the two of you together earn over a certain amount you won’t qualify for any Young Parent Payments.)

    Note: If you’re 18, you can receive Jobseeker Support during your pregnancy. Once your baby is born, you’ll qualify for the Young Parent Payment. When you turn 20, you’ll qualify for Sole Parent Support if you’re single or Jobseeker Support if you have a partner.

Activity requirements for Young Parent Payment

Social Security Act 2018, ss 56, 57

To qualify for the Young Parent Payment, you must be undertaking, or be available for, full-time secondary or tertiary education or approved full-time training or work-based learning, leading to an NCEA 2 qualification or an equivalent or higher qualification, unless:

  • you’re exempted from this (for example, because you’re sick or have a disability), or
  • your child is less than six months old, or
  • your child is between six and 12 months old and there isn’t a suitable place available for you in a teen parent unit (a school established specifically for young parents).

Your partner, if you have one, is subject to the full-time work-test unless exempt for health reasons.

Other obligations when receiving the Young Parent Payment

Social Security Act 2018, ss 105, 110, 162–164, 169

As well as the requirement to be undertaking or to be available for education or training in certain cases, Work and Income can also require you to do other things, such as:

  • attend a budgeting programme
  • go to interviews with Work and Income or Youth Service provider organisations
  • cooperate with Work and Income or Youth Service providers in managing how your benefit is spent – this means, in particular, attending budgeting discussions and providing information about your finances and spending.

As a parent on a benefit, you’re also required to meet a number of “social” obligations, such as making sure that from age three your children attend pre-school or school (see “Extra ‘social obligations’ for parents on benefits”).

The Young Parent Payment is subject to the same “money management” system as the Youth Payment. Under this system, most of the benefit is not paid to you directly (see “How the Youth Payment is paid”, under “You’re at school or in training (16 and 17 year olds)”).

Special “incentive payments” on the Young Parent Payment

Social Security Regulations 2018, regs 12–14; Social Security Act 2018, Sched 4, Pt 6

While you’re receiving the Young Parent Payment, you may also qualify for all of the following incentive payments:

  • You’ll receive an extra $10 a week if you complete six months’ successful participation in education, training or work-based learning.
  • You’ll receive an extra $10 a week if you complete an approved budgeting course and if for three continuous months you’ve also been attending budgeting discussions with Work and Income or a Youth Service provider.
  • You’ll receive an extra $10 a week if you complete a parenting education course and meet other related requirements.

If you’ve met the relevant requirements, you’ll continue to receive the incentive payment for as long as you’re on the Young Parent Payment, unless you fail to meet your obligations and Work and Income “sanctions” you (see below).

Sanctions (penalties) if you don’t meet your obligations

The sanctions for failing to meet your obligations under the Young Parent Payment are the same as for the Youth Payment (see “Sanctions (penalties) if you don’t meet your obligations”, under “You’re at school or in training (16 and 17 year olds)”).

Challenging a refusal to grant the Young Parent Payment

If Work and Income refuse your application for the Young Parent Payment, you can apply for a review by a Benefit Review Committee (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).

Childcare costs

What forms of childcare assistance are available?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 17, 76, 77, Sched 4; Social Security Regulations 2018, regs 20–49

There are several ways of getting help with childcare costs for school-aged and pre-school children, both under the Social Security Act and from the Ministry of Education.

  • Pre-schoolers (Childcare Subsidy) – This is paid to registered early-childhood education centres for pre-school children, until the child is five years and four weeks old. But if the school your child will be going to does “cohort entry” (starting new entrants in groups at the start of a term or on a mid-term start date, rather than one by one) then the subsidy will keep being paid until they start school, up to age six. It will also be paid up to age six if the Child Disability Allowance is being paid for your child. If you’re a beneficiary and the child’s main caregiver, you have a basic entitlement of up to nine hours a week for the child. You can qualify for up to 50 hours a week if:
    • you’re working part-time or are in training or some other approved activity, and your partner (if you have one) is also in work, training or another approved activity or is unable to care for the child for some good reason, or
    • you have a serious disability or illness (as shown by a doctor’s certificate) and your partner (if you have one) is in work, training or another approved activity or is unable to care for the child for some good reason, or
    • you’re receiving a Child Disability Allowance for the child, or
    • you’re also the main caregiver for another child who is in hospital or for whom a Child Disability Allowance is being paid.
  • Early Learning Payment, to age 3 – This is for childcare costs for children aged between 18 months and three years who are from families enrolled in selected Family Start or Early Start Programmes. This pays for up to 20 hours if the child is under 30 months old, and up to 15 hours a week if the child is over 30 months.
  • School-aged children (OSCAR subsidy) – This is paid for after-school and holiday programme activities for school-aged children. It’s paid term-by-term for up to 20 hours per week during term time and up to 50 hours for a holiday programme. To qualify, you must be in paid employment or undertaking approved training or courses. The OSCAR subsidy is income-tested.

These payments are made only if the child attends the relevant school or centre, unless they are ill.

Non-beneficiaries can also receive these payments, with the amount being reduced depending on their gross weekly income.

Payments are made directly to the particular school or centre.

Challenging decisions about childcare assistance

Work and Income decisions to refuse these types of payments can be reviewed by a Benefit Review Committee (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).

Help with children’s ongoing disability costs
(Child Disability Allowance)

Who qualifies for the Child Disability Allowance?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 17, 78–83, Sched 4

The Child Disability Allowance is paid to a caregiver for a child who has a physical or mental disability and therefore needs constant care and attention. The disability must be permanent or likely to last for more than a year.

In deciding whether a child needs “constant care and attention”, Work and Income must take into account whether the child needs frequent help with toileting, washing and other bodily functions, or needs attention and supervision over and above what’s normal for a child of the same age, or needs regular supervision to prevent “substantial danger” to the child or other people.

You’ll need to get confirmation from a doctor that you qualify for the allowance.

Payment and income-testing

The Child Disability Allowance can be approved for one or more years and can be paid until the child turns 18. You may also be able to get the Disability Allowance for the child (see “Help with ongoing disability costs: Disability Allowance”).

The Child Disability Allowance isn’t income-tested, and so even people on very high incomes can get it. However, if you apply for ongoing hardship assistance, the Child Disability Allowance will be included in the assessment (see “Temporary Additional Support: Extra ongoing help with hardship” under “Other benefits and allowances”).

Challenging decisions about the Child Disability Allowance

A Work and Income decision to refuse a Child Disability Allowance can be reviewed by a Medical Appeal Board (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).

Extra “social obligations” for parents on benefits

Social Security Act 2018, ss 6, 106, 128–135, 137, 169, 243, 255, 267, 430, Sched 2

Parents on benefits have a range of what are termed “social obligations”. These require you to:

  • ensure that from age three your children are enrolled at and regularly attending pre-school (if one is available) or school
  • ensure that your children are registered with a medical centre or primary health organisation and that, up to age five, they’re up to date with core checks under the WellChild programme
  • attend interviews with Work and Income or an organisation acting on Work and Income’s behalf.

If you don’t meet these obligations, your benefit may be reduced (see “Trouble with Work and Income: Penalties, investigations and overpayments” in this chapter).

Note: Work and Income are able to apply some discretion, and there are a number of exceptions in relation to these “social obligations”. However, the law in this area is relatively new and not yet well-tested. The way Work and Income is applying its discretionary power is still unclear.

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