Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance: High Income Child Benefit Charge

Introduction
What is the charge?
Someone else claims Child Benefit
Calculating the charge
Electing not to receive Child Benefit
National Insurance credits
Paying the charge
Action to take
The legislation
Meaning of ‘partner’
Adjusted net income
Single earner/dual earner unfairness remains
Other problems
HMRC review of High Income Child Benefit Charge penalty cases (November 2018)
ESC A19
Forms
More information

Introduction

This tax charge was introduced from 7 January 2013. Since that date, individuals who receive Child Benefit where the Child Benefit claimant or their partner’s income is £50,000 or over are subject to a specific tax charge if they continue to receive Child Benefit payments. This also applies if another person claims Child Benefit for a child who normally lives in the high income household (see below). This change did not make Child Benefit a taxable benefit – the benefit itself remains non-taxable.

For those with adjusted net income between £50,000 and £60,000, the charge is less than the annual Child Benefit amount but gradually increases to 100% of the Child Benefit payments and for people whose income is £60,000 or more, the tax charge is 100% of the amount of Child Benefit.

Anyone affected can still claim Child Benefit because even if they opt not to receive payments, their underlying entitlement can help protect entitlement to State Pension and other benefits (by giving them National Insurance credits) and it also ensures the child will be automatically issued with a National Insurance number as they approach 16 years old.

Claimants affected by the charge must decide whether to receive (or continue to receive) Child Benefit payments or not. If they choose to receive the payments, then the tax charge must be paid. If they choose not to receive Child Benefit payments, then the tax charge will not have to be paid. But the best option depends on individual household circumstances and will need careful consideration. If Child Benefit payments continue, either the recipient or their partner (depending on their circumstances) will need to declare the payments on their Self Assessment (SA) return, and if they aren’t already in SA they need to register.

What is the charge?

The charge applies to taxpayers who have an adjusted net income over £50,000 in a tax year, where either themselves or their partner are in receipt of Child Benefit (see below where someone else claims Child Benefit). 

If both partners have adjusted net income over £50,000, the partner with the higher income is liable for the charge (regardless of which partner is in receipt of Child Benefit).

Someone else claims Child Benefit

In some cases, it is possible to claim Child Benefit for a child who is not living with the claimant if they contribute to the cost of providing for the child an amount equal to or greater than the current weekly amount of Child Benefit. There are rules which determine priority of entitlement where a claim for the same child is made by more than 1 person (see HMRC’s Child Benefit Technical Manual, CBTM08030). The contribution can be in cash or in kind (for example, providing clothing).

Example

Christine is a single parent and needs to move away for a new job. Her daughter Sarah, age 12, goes to live with Christine’s friend. Christine continues to pay her friend some money towards her daughter’s upkeep. Christine can still receive Child Benefit for Sarah which covers some of the cost of contributions she gives her friend towards Sarah’s maintenance.

This situation can create some complexities in relation to the tax charge. In the example above, if Christine’s friend or her partner has adjusted net income of £50,000 or more, then the High Income Child Benefit charge (HICBC) might apply even though Christine’s income is lower. In other words, this means that those with adjusted net income over £50,000 who live with a child and who receive at least the value of Child Benefit directly or indirectly from the Child Benefit claimant are in the same position as someone with adjusted net income over £50,000 who lives with a child and claims, or whose partner claims, Child Benefit.

There is some information about claiming Child Benefit under the maintenance rules in HMRC’s Child Benefit manual

Calculating the charge

The charge applies at a rate of one per cent of the full Child Benefit award for each £100 of adjusted net income between £50,000 and £60,000. The charge on taxpayers with adjusted net income of £60,000 or more will be equal to the amount of Child Benefit paid. For example, Child Benefit for two children is £1,855 per year. For a taxpayer whose adjusted net income is £54,000, the charge will be £742.00. This calculated as follows:

Step 1: £1,855 Child Benefit divided by 100 = £18.55 (which is 1% of the Child Benefit award)
Step 2: £54,000 (adjusted net income) minus the £50,000 threshold = £4,000 of excess income
Step 3: £4,000 of excess income divided by £100 = 40 (the number of £100s of excess income)
Step 4: £18.55 (1% of the Child Benefit award) multiplied by 40 (the number of £100s of excess income) = £742

For a taxpayer whose adjusted net income is £62,000, the charge will be £1,855 (the full amount of Child Benefit paid).

HMRC have produced a calculator on GOV.UK that calculates the tax charge you or your partner may have to pay.

An individual who has adjusted net income above £50,000 but who is not receiving Child Benefit themselves will only be liable to the charge in respect of Child Benefit payments made for any period of the tax year during which they are part of a couple with a Child Benefit claimant whose adjusted net income is less than their own. So, if they were only part of a couple with the Child Benefit claimant for 3 months of the tax year they would effectively only pay one quarter of the annual amount of the charge. The adjusted net income used to calculate the charge is always for the full tax year, however.

Electing not to receive Child Benefit

Child Benefit itself is not liable to tax and the amount that can be claimed is unaffected by the charge. It can continue to be paid in full to the claimant even if they or their partner have a liability to the tax charge. Child Benefit claimants can elect not to receive the Child Benefit to which they are entitled if they or their partner do not wish to pay the charge. The claimant may subsequently decide to withdraw that election if they or their partner are no longer liable to pay the charge - this is called revocation.

Normally, the revocation takes effect once it is treated as made which is normally on the Monday after HMRC receive the request to re-start payments. However, a person can ask for their payments to start at an earlier date if:

The following example is based on one from the HMRC Child Benefit manual.

A person decides not to receive their Child Benefit payments for the 2018-2019 tax year because they expected their partner’s adjusted net income to be £80,000 in that year. When their partner submits their 2018-2019 tax return in December 2019, his actual adjusted net income for the year was £48,000. The person can revoke their election and get the Child Benefit payments they were entitled to receive for 2018-2019.

National insurance credits

People still need to claim Child Benefit for each child even if they elect not to receive payments in order to preserve entitlement to National Insurance credits that Child Benefit claimants receive if they have a child under 12 or are an approved foster or kinship carer.

Paying the charge

The charge is collected through the self-assessment system and Pay As You Earn System. This means that the person liable to the charge has to complete a tax return (possibly for the first time) and the amount owed will either have to be paid to HMRC by the appropriate deadline or may be able to be collected from the person’s earnings by adjusting their PAYE tax code. However, any individual liable to the charge must file a Self Assessment tax return in every case, even if they have already paid the charge via PAYE.

Action to take

Anyone affected by the HICBC who chooses to carry on receiving Child Benefit payments needs to declare the amount of Child Benefit they or their partner receive, by registering for Self-Assessment (if they are not already registered) and filling in a tax return each year.

You can register online via the GOV.UK website or contact the Self-assessment line on 0300 200 3600 (NGT text relay 18001 0300 200 3600)

Those affected who choose to stop receiving payment of Child Benefit need to tell HMRC. The Child Benefit Helpline is 0300 200 3100 (NGT text relay 18001 0300 200 3100). Alternatively, you can do this via the HMRC email service or via your online account or by writing to the Child Benefit Office:

HM Revenue and Customs - Child Benefit Office
PO Box 1
Newcastle Upon Tyne
NE88 1AA
United Kingdom

Anyone who has opted to have their Child Benefit payments stopped, can submit a request to have payments restart. You can do this via an online form or by contacting the Child Benefit Helpline on 0300 200 3100 or writing to the Child Benefit Office (address above). Payments will usually start again from the Monday after your request is received.

If circumstances change, for example adjusted net income changes or partner moves in or out, tell HMRC to make sure any payments that you’re entitled to or tax that you need to pay are correct. Guidance on what changes to notify and what steps to take can be found on the HMRC website.

The legislation

The legislation for the ‘high income Child Benefit charge’ was introduced in the Finance bill 2012 (clause 8 and schedule 1) and is now the Finance Act 2012.

Meaning of “partner”
(note this is the same as for tax credits)

(1) For the purposes of this Chapter a person is a “partner” of another person at any time if any of conditions A to D is met at that time.

(2) Condition A is that the persons are married to each other and are neither—

(a) separated under a court order, nor
(b) separated in circumstances in which the separation is likely to be permanent.

(3) Condition B is that the persons are not married to each other but are living together as if they were

(4) Condition C is that the persons are civil partners of each other and are neither —

(a) separated under a court order, nor
(b) separated in circumstances in which the separation is likely to be permanent.

(5) Condition D is that the persons are not civil partners of each other but are living together as if they were

Adjusted net income

(2) “Adjusted net income” of a person for a tax year means the person’s adjusted net income for that tax year as determined under section 58 of ITA 2007.

You can find information on how to calculate adjusted net income on the GOV.UK website.

Single earner/dual earner unfairness remains

The proposal does not address the single earner/dual earner problem – for example, families with a single earner on £60,000 a year will have the full amount of child benefit clawed back, while couples where both partners earn just under £50,000 will retain their child benefit in full.

The only way to address this problem would be to introduce some form of household means test. However, the Government has said repeatedly that it has no intention of doing so.

Other problems

Individuals with an adjusted net income in excess of £50,000 are required to inform HMRC if they or their partner are in receipt of Child Benefit. In a situation where someone does not know their partner’s income, they will need to use the HMRC enquiry service. They can ask whether their individual adjusted net income was higher than their partner’s/ex-partner’s adjusted net income for a specific tax year. HMRC will answer based on the latest information available to them. More information on making this request is available on the GOV.UK website. You can use an online form to make a request for necessary information about your partner so you can decide whether you need to take action regarding the charge.

HMRC review of High Income Child Benefit Charge penalty cases (November 2018)

In November 2018, HMRC advised they were to review HICBC cases, and issue penalty refunds, where a 'Failure to Notify' penalty was issued for certain tax years and HMRC find the person had a reasonable excuse for not meeting this tax obligation.

HMRC say they define a reasonable excuse as something that stopped someone from meeting a tax obligation which they took appropriate care to meet, and decisions on what constitutes a reasonable excuse are based on an assessment of individual circumstances.

The review concluded in June 2019 and HMRC automatically granted a reasonable excuse to taxpayers who were issued with ‘Failure to Notify’ penalties for 2013/14 to 2015/16 inclusive in the following two scenarios:

Families that claimed Child Benefit before the HICBC was introduced and where one partner’s adjusted net income subsequently increased to over £50,000;
Families where the liability to the HICBC arose in either 2013/14, 2014/15 or 2015/16 as a result of the formation of a new partnership.

Further information about the review is available on the GOV.UK website.

ESC A19

If HMRC did not act on information they were given, in certain circumstances taxpayers with tax arrears can ask for the tax to be written off under extra-statutory concession A19. There are strict conditions which must be satisfied if HMRC are to apply the concession.

Where HMRC have issued discovery assessments in order to assess the HICBC for previous tax years, we are aware that some taxpayers have attempted to argue ESC A19. This is on the basis that HMRC should have already been aware that the individual was earning above the £50,000 threshold (from PAYE information already held) and the fact that they, or their partner, were a child benefit claimant (from Child Benefit Office records – which is in fact part of HMRC). However, we are not convinced that the concession technically applies in these cases, because it does not appear to cover a failure to match up PAYE records with child benefit records. We are also aware that HMRC are resisting taxpayers’ attempts to apply it, despite some attempts reaching the Adjudicator. See, for example, case study 8 (page 30) in the Adjudicator’s Office annual report 2019.

However, this does not mean that ESC A19 can never apply in respect of the HICBC. HMRC’s Self Assessment Manual at SAM101120 expressly mentions that the HICBC can be considered under the concession. It will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

Alongside consideration of ESC A19, taxpayers in this situation should always ensure that any discovery assessments relating to the HICBC are validly issued, in time, and based on accurate figures of adjusted net income and child benefit received. In Wilkes v HMRC [2020] UKFTT 256 (TC), the taxpayer successfully argued that the discovery assessment was not valid, on the basis that there was no income which ought to have been assessed that was not assessed (as neither the charge nor the child benefit is taxable income). However, the decision is not binding on HMRC or on other judgments at the first-tier tribunal (for example, see Haslam v HMRC [2020] UKFTT 304 (TC) in which the judge decided that a “rectifying interpretation” of the legislation was justified such that a discovery assessment could be used to assess the charge. HMRC could also appeal. See the LITRG news article HMRC told high income child benefit charge assessments not valid for more information on the Wilkes case.

Forms

HMRC have a number of online forms that you can use in relation to the HICBC:           

More information

More information and guidance about election and revocation can be found in the HMRC Child Benefit manual.  

The GOV.UK website also contains some basic information about the charge.

Last reviewed/updated 14 August 2020