NRP's household claiming WFTC
Problems when the NRP's household claims Working Families Tax Credit
Should Working Families Tax Credit be included as NRP's net income?
Suggested alternative to treating tax credits as NRP's income
Case study 1 - Removing the incentive for the NRP to work
Case study 2 - Bizarre child support changes as the new partner's income changes
Case study 3 - No incentive for the NRP to earn more
Related topic - Other case studies
Related topic - NRP incomes and the new formula
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Case Study 3 - No incentive for the NRP to earn more

The changing situation

(Some of the tax credit amounts date to pre-April 2001. This should not affect the totals by more than about £1 or so).

This article looks at the child support paid by a low-earning non-resident parent as his earnings overtake those of his partner, while hers stay the same.

Stage 1 Just after separation, he is living alone. He is an "absent father", paying child support. He isn't entitled to any benefits or tax credits, so may not be able to afford to share the care of his children.
Stage 2 The NRP has a new partner. She has a young child (it doesn't make any difference here whether it is also his child). He works. She works and earns more than him. They are entitled to claim Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC). They have to use childcare for the child because there is no one left at home to look after the child. But they can claim some of this back from the WFTC scheme as childcare tax credit.
Stage 3 He gets a pay rise and so now he earns as much as her. She continues to work and earns the same as before. They still claim WFTC and childcare tax credit.
Stage 4 He gets another pay rise and so now he earns more than her. She continues to work and earns the same as before. They still claim WFTC and childcare tax credit.

The specific amounts assumed in this case are:

  • His net income starts at £120 per week, increases (stage 2) to £140 per week, then increases again (stage 3) to £160 per week
  • Her net income is £140 per week throughout this case study
  • Their individual working hours per week: 30
  • Childcare cost per week: £100

Stage 1 - he is living alone

This is quite a typical case. Most NRPs earn less than the mean NRP income, and well under the national average male full time earnings.

He is not entitled to any sort of benefit or tax credit relating to children - even if he shares the care of his children.

This stage is probably quite plausible - the £10 child support is much less than a child costs, but the NRP is not wealthy.

(For completeness, this also shows the circumstances of his future partner, Anne. She has a child, and because she works full time she has to use childcare.

Their total retained income is £300.25. They have two lots of housing costs, although whether these amount to more than the costs of the house they will live in at stage 2 is a different topic. Besides, Anne may get Housing Benefit & Council Tax Benefit.

This Case Study isn't intended to discuss in detail the implications of merging households and ending up with less money. That is just shown here for completeness).

Stage 2 - he has a (higher earning) working partner with child

The NRP now has a (working) partner. They have to use childcare because they are both working.

He earns less than his partner. Remember that NRPs tend to earn less than the average full time male income. NRPs, on average, are somewhat poor people, not rich deadbeat dads. (Although some are rich deadbeat dads!)

Their combined retained income has dropped from £300.25 to £234.25 - but at least they they have each other! (They sometimes wonder whether they should continue to claim to live apart - this is "living together as man and wife fraud").

But Arnold intends to "better himself". He intends to earn lots more and make life better for Anne and Anthony (and perhaps even Brenda too). Macho pride? So what?

He is paying much less than half of the researched regular expenditure on Brenda. (He may not believe this - but he is!) It is the same amount that he was paying at stage 1 when their combined retained income was £66 more than it is now.

Stage 3 - he now earns the same as his new partner

He gets a pay rise. He now earns the same as his partner.

He pays more child support. Of course he does - he has been contributing far less than half of the researched regular expenditure on Brenda so far, and now he can afford to pay more.

But look at the retained income of his household. It is precisely the same as Stage 2! He is earning £20 per week more (extra hours, extra travelling, extra training, more responsibility & accountability) but he, and Anne, and Anthony, have nothing to show for it!

(They continue to discuss whether to claim to live apart - or even actually to separate! The child support would drop to £15, and they would be £81 better off in total retained income).

Betty is happy - "look Brenda, your daddy is working much harder and earning lots of extra money, and your child support has increased by £9 per week".

(Perhaps Betty doesn't ask why Arnold has earned £20 per week more net, is no better off himself, and she is just £9 per week better off. But we should ask!)

Stage 4 - he now earns more than his new partner

He gets another pay rise. He now earns more than his partner.

He pays yet more child support. Of course he does - he has been contributing far less than half of the researched regular expenditure on Brenda so far, and now he can afford to pay yet more.

But look at the retained income of his household. It is £2 per week more than stage 3! He is earning another £20 per week more (extra hours, extra travelling, extra training, more responsibility & accountability) but he, and Anne, and Anthony, have £2 to show for it!

(If they separated the child support would drop to £20, and they would be £94 better off in total retained income).

Betty is still happy - "look Brenda, your daddy is working even harder and earning even extra money, and your child support has increased by £7 per week".

(Perhaps Betty doesn't ask why Arnold has earned £20 per week more net, is virtually no better off himself, and she is just £7 per week better off. But we should ask!)

Compared with stage 1:

  • Arnold is earning £40 net per week more.
  • His household is £2 per week better off.
  • Betty & Brenda are £16 per week better off.

Hm!

Conclusions

The first conclusion is that the marginal increases in child support as the NRP earns more sometimes suck! (And this was based on earning £40 net more. He would have had to earn even more gross!) This is the reformed scheme, not the current scheme which can be even worse!

Another conclusion is that Anne and Arnold need to be happy living together, or at least save a lot on housing costs, because it is costing them quite a lot (in extra child support and reduced WFTC) to do so. This shows one of the poisonous social effects of means-tested benefits (or tax credits) - does society really want to provide incentives for Anne and Arnold to continue to live apart, or at least claim to? The interaction with child support simply makes the nasty effects even worse.

But the real conclusion is that having big steps in the formula such as the 0% / 50% / 100% contributions of WFTC to net income screws people up to an incredible degree. It is incompetent legislation to make such a small change in circumstances have such a big final outcome. It can only cause resentment, and cause people to behave badly. Who, in Arnold's situation, would even bother? Why shouldn't Arnold say "stuff it, why bother to try to earn more?"

References

[1] The following statement in the CSA Reform White Paper will probably haunt the government!

"Tax credits ... The new tax credits can be paid to either partner. Tax credits will be used to assess maintenance where the nonresident parent is the principal or only earner. If the nonresident parent and his new partner are earning exactly the same, only half of the tax credit will be used in assessing child support liability. In cases where the new partner is the principal earner, we will ignore any tax credits regardless of whose wage packet they are paid into. This reflects the way that Family Credit is treated in the current child support system."

[2] The legislation is in Schedule Part IV "Tax Credits" of:
The Child Support (Maintenance Calculations and Special Cases) Regulations 2000

Page last updated: 18 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003