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Check if you can get the Early Learning Payment

This advice applies to Scotland

Coronavirus - more time to apply for an Early Learning Payment

If you've missed the deadline for applying for an Early Learning Payment because of coronavirus, it does not matter. You can make a late application.

Social Security Scotland will check your application against your circumstances on the last day that you would normally have been eligible.

If you're applying after your child has turned 3 and a half years old, Social Security Scotland will look at your circumstances on the day before your child turned 3 and a half. They will only do this if your application is late because of coronavirus.

If you're under 18, you don't need to get any benefits to be eligible for an Early Learning Payment. If you've turned 18 and you missed applying earlier because of coronavirus, you can make a late application. Social Security Scotland will look at your circumstances on the day before you turned 18 to see if you're eligible.

You can get an Early Learning Payment if you:

You can only get the payment once, although there's an exception if you've taken over caring for a child from someone else. Check if you can get a payment if someone else has already had one.

If you're eligible, you can apply online, by phone or by post.

When can I apply

You can apply for an Early Learning Payment from your child's second birthday until the date they're aged 3 and a half years old.

This is called the 'application window'.

You can't make a late application unless you're waiting for a decision about a qualifying benefit or you missed the application window because of coronavirus.

Can I make a late application if my child is older than 3 and a half

You might be able to make a late application for an Early Learning Payment if you could not apply earlier because you were waiting for a decision about a qualifying benefit.

If you're awarded the qualifying benefit for at least 1 day when your child was aged between 2 and 3 and a half, you can apply for the payment.

You must make sure that Social Security Scotland receives your late application:

  • not more than 20 working days after the last day of the application window - this means not more than 20 days after the end of the day on which the child turns 3 and a half, and
  • within 3 months of you being told about the backdated award - you’ll need to apply within 3 months of the date that the authority made the decision, for example the DWP or your local council.

Who can apply for an Early Learning Payment

You can apply for an Early Learning Payment if you or your partner is responsible for the child on the day that you apply. This means that you're:

  • responsible for the child - because you get Child Tax Credit, Child Benefit, the child addition part of Pension Credit or the child element of Universal Credit for them
  • responsible for the child in some other way – for example, you have adopted a child, are the guardian of a child or are a kinship carer for the child. 

Child Tax Credit, Universal Credit and the 2-child limit

If you have more than 2 children, you might not get any Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit for your third or subsequent children. This is because of the '2- child limit' in these 2 benefits.

As long as your Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit award recognises that you're responsible for the child you're applying for, it will not matter if you're not actually getting any benefit for them.

Find out more about the 2-child limit for Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit.

If you've adopted a child

You can get an Early Learning Payment. 

If you get Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, the Pension Credit child addition or the child element of Universal Credit for the child, you will not need to give any evidence of the adoption to Social Security Scotland. 

If you do not get Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, the Pension Credit child addition or the child element of Universal Credit for the child, you might need to send Social Security Scotland a copy of the legal order that allows you to look after the child. 

You should send Social Security Scotland a copy of the legal order, not the original.

You can ask Social Security Scotland to send you a pre-paid envelope to put the copy of the order in. You can phone them to ask for this. If you were sent a paper application form, the pre-paid envelope should have been sent with the form. 

Social Security Scotland - Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods
PO Box 10300
Dundee
DD1 9FU

Tel: 0800 182 2222

Find out more about adoption.

If you're a kinship carer

You might be able to get an Early Learning Payment.

Being a kinship carer means that you're looking after the child because a relative or close friend cannot look after them. For example, you might be looking after your grandchild, niece or nephew.

If you do not get Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, the child addition of Pension Credit or the child element of Universal Credit for the child, you will need to send Social Security Scotland proof that you're a kinship carer. This could be a copy of the legal order that allows you to look after the child or the agreement you have with the local council.

If you're not sure if the local council recognises you as a kinship carer, you can check this. For example, you can write to the local council or get help from the kinship care helpline.

You should send Social Security Scotland a copy of the legal order, not the original.

You can ask Social Security Scotland to send you a pre-paid envelope. You can phone them to ask for this. If you were sent a paper application form, the pre-paid envelope should have been sent with the form.

Social Security Scotland - Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods
PO Box 10300
Dundee
DD1 9FU

Tel: 0800 182 2222

Read more about kinship care.

If more than 1 person applies for the same child

Only 1 person can get the Early Learning Payment for a child.

If you and somebody else apply for the same child, Social Security Scotland will decide who gets the payment based on which benefits you already get for the child and how you can show you're responsible for the child.

Social Security Scotland must decide on the application of the person who applied first, before deciding on another application.

You'll get the Early Learning Payment if you get 1 of these benefits for the child:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Pension Credit with child element
  • Universal Credit with child element.

If you're a kinship carer, you'll get the Early Learning Payment if either:

  • no one else applying gets 1 of these benefits
  • the child’s circumstances show that you're responsible for them.

If no one is a kinship carer or getting benefits

You'll get the Early Learning Payment if you get Child Benefit and no one who applied:

  • is a kinship carer
  • gets Universal Credit, Pension Credit or Child Tax Credit for the child.

But if no one gets Child Benefit, Social Security Scotland will decide who gets the payment by considering the child’s circumstances. This means they'll think about where the child lives and how they’re cared for.

If you're both kinship carers or getting benefits

The person who applied for Early Learning Payment first will get the payment if everyone applying has the same level of priority.

You might have the same level of priority if you and the other person:

  • are kinship carers but do not get any benefits for the child yet
  • get Universal Credit, Pension Credit or Child Tax Credit for the child.

For example, you might both get a benefit like Universal Credit for the child because you have a joint claim.

What benefits do I need to get

You or your partner usually needs to get 1 of the following benefits: 

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Universal Credit.

You or your partner usually needs to get 1 of these benefits on the day you apply for the Early Learning Payment.

There are exceptions if you're:

  • under 18
  • an 18- or 19-year-old mother in some types of education or training.

If you think you might be able to get 1 of these benefits

You should check this out.

You'll need to act quickly if your child is close to the age limit of 3 and a half years old.

Use an online benefit calculator to see if you might be entitled to anything. You can find benefit calculators on the Turn2Us website or the Entitledto website. 

For help applying, get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you've applied for a benefit but not had a decision yet 

You can still apply for an Early Learning Payment. 

If you're waiting for a decision about a claim for Universal Credit, your claim for an Early Learning Payment will be held until the end of the first Universal Credit assessment period. An Early Learning Payment decision can then be made at this point. This is called a 'determination'. 

If you're waiting for a decision about a claim for any benefit other than Universal Credit, the claim will be held for 10 days in case a decision is made in that time. If so, a determination about the Early Learning Payment can be made. If not, you'll need to re-apply for the Early Learning Payment once your other benefit claim is decided.

If you've missed the application window for the Early Learning Payment but you've now been awarded a qualifying benefit, you might be able to make a late claim for a payment. This will only be possible if you've been awarded the benefit for a date within the application window.

Find out if you can make a late claim for a payment

If you're not sure if you can apply, check how you can get advice.

If you or your partner gets Universal Credit 

You might not get some Universal Credit every month if your income goes up and down.

Check that you got an award of Universal Credit in the month before you apply for an Early Learning Payment, because this will be checked first. It will not matter if you do not get any Universal Credit in the month you apply, as long as you got some for the month before you applied.

If your Universal Credit goes down because of deductions, for example for a sanction or money you owe, this will not matter. Social Security Scotland will look at the amount of your Universal Credit before any deductions are made. 

Read more about how Universal Credit is paid.

If you're under 18

You don't need to get any of the qualifying benefits to get an Early Learning Payment. 

If you're an 18- or 19-year-old mother

You don't need to get any benefits as long as someone else gets Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, the child addition of Pension Credit or the child element of Universal Credit for you. For example, your parent or carer might get 1 of these benefits for you because you're still at school or college. 

When you apply, you'll need to give your parent or carer's details so Social Security Scotland can check they get benefits for you. You'll need to give their name, date of birth and national insurance number if they have one.

Read more about Child Benefit

Read more about Child Tax Credit

Find out about Pension Credit.

Read more about how much Universal Credit you could get.

Rules about living in Scotland

In most cases, you can get an Early Learning Payment if you normally live in Scotland and you meet the other conditions for getting the payment.

If you're not a UK citizen or you're a UK citizen who has been living abroad, you might not be able to get any of these benefits. So you might not be able to get an Early Learning Payment.

Get advice if you're not sure if you can get an Early Learning Payment because of residence issues. Find out how to get immigration advice. 

If a payment has already been made for a child

You can't usually get an Early Learning Payment if someone else has already had a payment for the child.

The only time that a second Early Learning Payment can be made for the same child is if you've taken over responsibility for the child - for example, you have adopted the child or are a kinship carer.

The child still needs to be aged between 2 and 3 and a half years old for you to get an Early Learning Payment.

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