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Any pregnant ladies should, if eligible, apply for Healthy Start vouchers.  This is a NHS scheme which provides vouchers for fruit, vegetables and milk to low income pregnant women and families with young children.  Vouchers are worth £3.10 per week but claimants are entitled to two vouchers per week for baby’s first year.  Check out www.healthystart.nhs.uk or call 0845 607 6823.

The Sure Start Maternity Grant is a non-repayable grant for people on low incomes, to help buy items for a new baby (usually only their first baby).  It is £500 paid in a lump sum to the claimant.  If it is a multiple pregnancy, the grant is payable per baby.  For more information, check http://www.gov.uk/sure-start-maternity-grant or contact Jobcentre Plus on 0800 055 6688.

While pregnant, the mum-to-be can receive free dental care and up until baby is one year old.  All mums-to-be are entitled to this benefit.  Ask your midwife, dentist or call 0800 22 44 88.

Free medicines for common illness without a GP’s prescription is available for pregnant women, new mothers within one year of the birth and for children up to 16 (or 19 in full-time education) via NHS Minor Ailment Service at chemists or pharmacies.  Ask your local pharmacy.

Consider looking at: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/baby-money-timeline, the Money Advice Service’s Timeline which is personalised to you by putting in your due date.

If working, the pregnant mum can expect to receive Statutory Maternity Pay, until she returns to work after childbirth.  The weekly amount varies depending on length of service and individual contractual terms.  Maternity Allowance is the self-employed workers equivalent.  Information on both is available on the DWP website.

Statutory Paternity Pay is available to the child’s father, if eligible.  Discuss with your employer.

Child Benefit is paid from the date of birth.  This equates to £20.70 per week for the only or eldest child; and £13.70 per week for subsequent children and is claimed from DWP.

Currently tax credits are split into two: Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits.  If you work, you may be entitled to both.  Tax credits are made up of elements: family, child, disabled child and severely disabled child.  The disability elements are awarded when in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.  Tax Credits can be backdated for one month and you don’t have to show any reason for the delay.  Tax credits will be replaced by Universal Credit soon.

The Benefit Cap has been introduced and it makes it impossible to receive more in benefits than average take home pay of £20,000 per annum (£384.62 per week) for couples, and £13,400 per annum (£257.69 per week) for lone parents.  Most people on benefits cannot receive anything near this amount.  If you want to find out more, check: https://www.gov.uk/benefit-cap.

Universal Credit is the new benefit which has started to come into effect across the Highland region.  It replaces Housing Benefit, Child and Working Tax Credits, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and income-related Employment and Support Allowance.  Contact the Jobcentre or Citizens Advice Bureau if you have any questions at all.

Often and increasingly, the age of the child/ren is critical for lone parents and working age benefits.  For example, if your child is 15, you are expected to be looking for work, however if your child is 2, you are not.

It should not be overlooked that obtaining one benefit may well passport a receiver onto other benefits, e.g. by being entitled to Income Support, you are automatically entitled to the maximum amount of Child Tax Credit that you could receive AND your child/children can receive Free School Meals; or by being entitled Child Tax Credit, you receive free prescriptions.

The Baby Box provided by the Scottish Government has been available from Summer 2017.  It is given to every newborn baby and contains essential items such as clothes, nappies and books.  The box is also suitable for baby to sleep in.

Low earners and those on Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance may be entitled to a Council Tax Reduction (discount).  Ask if you are in receipt of this already, and if not, ask for an application form.

Cold Weather Payments are different to the Winter Fuel Payments (only paid to pensioners).  Cold Weather Payments are made for each seven day period of zero degrees or below recorded between 1 November and 31 March.  Payments are of £25.  It is paid to pensioners and other specific benefit receivers automatically – there is no need to apply.

Children are entitled to free school meals AND assistance with schoolwear, if you receive Universal Credit (less than £610 per monthly earned income), Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance or income-related ESA; or if you receive Child Tax Credit and have a low income (under £16,105).  To claim, check: https://www.mygov.scot/school-meals/, which takes you to the relevant Highland Council webpage.  If you feel you might be eligible but are not currently claiming one of these benefits, get in touch with DWP or Lochaber Citizen’s Advice Bureau to claim as soon as possible.

One particularly handy and under-used benefit is the Patient Travel Scheme, which gives help with fares to hospital for NHS treatment for people living in the Highlands provided they have to travel at least 30 miles by land (or 5 miles by sea) to get to hospital.  Check:
http://www.nhshighland.scot.nhs.uk/Services/Pages/PatientTravel.aspx and then claim at the hospital.

The Scottish Welfare Fund replaced the Social Fund in April 2013.  It is intended to offer grants or in kind support for two purposes: 1. To provide a safety net in a disaster or emergency when there is an immediate threat to health or safety – Crisis Grants, and 2. To enable independent living or continue independent living, preventing the need for institutional care – Community Care Grants.  Check: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/welfarereform/scottishwelfarefund.

Energy suppliers offer discretionary discounts.  Call your energy supplier (electricity, gas, coal, logs, etc.), tell them you are a parent and the ages of your children and ask what they offer.  You many qualify for a Warm Home Discount (£140 in 2017/18).  Customers with babies under the age of 12 months could be put on the Priority Service Register with Scottish Hydro, for example.  There are a number of funds available for the most vulnerable customers – ask if you think you should qualify.  Also ask about a cheaper tariff – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Scottish and Southern Electric /Scottish Hydro (SSE) offer the Priority Assistance Fund, where those suffering some form of vulnerability in the household (e.g. elderly or children or disability) AND either have a total household income of less than £16,000 OR are spending more than 10% of your income on energy costs, could qualify for practical measures including energy efficiency advice, income maximisation checks and help with energy debts.  Contact them to discuss further.

The Care and Repair service can be accessed by vulnerable householders.  This is run by the local authority and provides assistance with home repairs, maintenance and adaptations.

The Young Scot National Entitlement Card is a free electronic smart card for all young people aged 11 to 26.  The card entitles young people to discounts and offers on a range of shops, services and travel.  Most schools issue cards but you can call 0808 801 0338 or check www.youngscot.org/card.
                                                                                                                   
Get Online @ Home Initiative launches PCs from £99 and laptops from £149, with broadband from just £2.99 per month, if eligible.  This includes broadband from £2.99 per month, to help the staggering number (over 10 million) of digitally excluded Brits get online.  Check: http://www.getonlineathome.org.

Do not forget that Lochaber Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) is also available to assist you for all sorts of issues, from debt with trained and accredited Debt Advisers, right up to Benefit Appeals.  They can be contacted on 01397 705311 and their website, with a contact form, is: http://www.lochabercab.org.uk/.

The Home Energy Efficiency Programme for Scotland Area Based Scheme (HEEPSABS) is currently available via Scottish Government funding and Energy Company Obligation funding from energy suppliers. Insulation measures are offered to privately owned or privately rented properties across the Highlands with a Council Tax Band A-C, or Band D with an income below £20,000. If interested in this scheme please call Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282.

SGN’s Locking Valve Device: This valve ensures that the vulnerable customer cannot turn on the cooker, which prevents gas escaping, prevent fires from burnt out saucepans, and provide reassurance to family and neighbours.  Gas customers can be referred by us to Scottish Gas Network who can provide a locking valve device on cooker pipework.  The device is a small switch which is provided free of charge and installed by an engineer in the customer’s home.  A carer or relative would need to be present during the visit and they would agree the position of the valve.  The key will be given to the carer or relative.