Fall in benefit claims for babies in Preston
Campaigners fear pandemic is hindering parents claiming support
The number of babies that Preston parents are claiming child benefit for has fallen significantly.
Anti-poverty campaign group Turn2Us said parents being unable to register their newborns during the pandemic is likely the main cause of the large drop seen across the UK.
HM Revenue and Customs data shows families were receiving the benefit for 1,435 children less than one year old in Preston as of August last year.
This was 50 fewer than at the same point in 2019, compared to a drop of five seen the year before.
Across the UK, the number of child benefit claims for infants fell by nine per cent to 513,445, which was the biggest decrease of all children up to 19.
HMRC says lower birth rates may have been a factor, but the previous year's drop in claims for children aged less than one was just four per cent.
Many councils paused birth registrations during the pandemic, meaning parents have been unable to obtain a birth certificate which is needed to claim child benefit – the money paid to those responsible for bringing up a child.
Though HMRC did allow parents to do so without one, Turn2Us said this is likely the main reason for the "significant drop" in claims for babies.
Sara Willcocks, head of external affairs at the charity, added: "While child benefit can be backdated up to three months, it is a serious concern that so many new parents might have missed out on hundreds of pounds.
"Over the last decade, child poverty has risen dramatically and we have seen baby banks pop up across the country as so many parents struggle with the costs of raising a child.
"This is why it is vital parents claim all the support they are entitled to."
The anti-poverty group has called on the Government to increase child benefit by at least £10 per child per week, and publicise the scheme more widely to increase uptake.
The benefit is increasing from £21.05 to £21.15 for the eldest child from April 12, and from £13.95 to £14 per week for each subsequent child.
Overall, the number of children for whom benefits were being received across the UK fell by just one per cent between both 2018 and 2019, and 2019 and 2020.
But in Preston, the figure rose from 31,490 to 31,590 between August 2019 and last year – a rise of 100.
The Child Poverty Action Group said it is "very concerning" that changes to the benefit in recent years – including a cut-off for higher earners – have led some parents to think they are not entitled.
Chief executive Alison Garnham added: "It may also be that in lockdown while parents are not registering births in person or having face-to-face benefits advice, they don’t get the information and help they need to claim.
"Child benefit is core money for the poorest families, not an extra, so if parents are not getting their entitlement it’s deeply worrying for the well-being of children."
An HMRC spokesman said it is important that new parents remember to register for child benefit, even during these "unprecedented times".