When to make a joint or single tax credits claim

You usually have to make a joint claim if you're married or in a civil partnership. But joint claims may apply in other circumstances too. Find out how common relationship situations affect the type of claim you should make - such as living or moving in together, or splitting up.

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Why it’s important to claim correctly

One of the most common reasons people get too much tax credits (an 'overpayment') is claiming as a single person rather than as a couple.

This is because any earnings and other income that your partner has are taken into account when your tax credits are worked out.

You'll usually have to pay back any overpayment and you could even be asked to pay a penalty.

On the other hand, you could lose out if you claim as a couple when you should have claimed as an individual.

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You're married or in a civil partnership - and you're both in the UK

Make a joint claim - unless one of the following applies, in which case make a single claim:

  • you are separated under a court order
  • you are separated and this is likely to be permanent

Civil partnerships are the equivalent of marriage for same-sex couples.

Example of a joint claim

Pauline and John have been married for 15 years and have three children. They have grown apart and rarely spend time together. John eats most of his evening meals at the pub but still lives with Pauline at the same address. John occasionally gives Pauline money towards the household bills. Pauline and John have decided they will not separate until their children have grown up.

Pauline and John should make a joint claim as they are still married, and not legally or permanently separated.

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You're not married nor in a civil partnership - and you’re both in the UK

Whether you make a joint or single claim depends on factors such as:

  • where you both live
  • whether or not you're living with someone as though you are married or in a civil partnership
  • if you're in a new relationship

The following sections cover some common situations, including examples that you may find helpful.

You usually live with a partner

Make a joint claim if you live with a partner as though you are married or in a civil partnership.

You can ignore short periods of time when your partner is away from home, for example they're on holiday, working away or in hospital.

You usually live with a partner - an example of a joint claim

Mary and Derek have been a couple for a few months. Derek works as a long distance lorry driver and is away for several days at a time, when he sleeps in his cab. They decide to move in together. Mary and Derek should make a joint claim as soon as they start living together.

You're temporarily living apart from your partner

You may be temporarily living apart from your partner, for example, one of you is caring for an elderly relative. If so, you should make a joint claim.

You're temporarily living apart from your partner - an example of a joint claim

Hajrah lives in Durham and Mo lives and works in Hastings. They decide to live together, and Mo moves in with Hajrah, but keeps his flat in Hastings so he can stay there when he’s working. Hajrah and Mo should make a joint claim when they start living together.

You have split up from your partner

If you no longer live with your partner as though you are married or in a civil partnership, make a single claim.

You must tell the Tax Credit Office straightaway if you get back together again. You may need to make a new claim as a couple.

You have an on/off relationship with your partner - an example

Kelly and Dean live together but often argue and Dean sleeps on his Mum's sofa, before they make up and he returns. This wouldn’t affect their joint claim as they are still living together. But then Dean decides to end the relationship, and go back to live at his Mum's. Kelly should make a single claim as soon as they decide not to continue living together.

Some time later Kelly and Dean decide to get back together, even though he intends to continue to spend odd nights at his Mums. Kelly and Dean should make a new joint claim as soon as they start living together again.

You've got a new partner

You may have started a new relationship with someone and you're not sure how it will develop. It might be casual at this stage, but it could become more permanent.

Make a joint claim if either of the following happens:

  • you start living with your partner as though you are married or in a civil partnership
  • you get married or enter into a civil partnership - even if you don’t live together

You've got a new partner - an example of a joint claim

Gail and Barry have been going out for a while. He now spends most of his time at Gail’s house, and they eat, sleep and socialise together. He helps with DIY and gives her money towards the food and bills. Most weeks he returns to his Mum's for a night to pick up his post and see his family and friends.

Gail and Barry should make a joint claim.

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You - or your partner - work or live outside of the UK

You may be married or civil partners, or living together as though you are, and one of you works or lives outside of the UK.

Whether you make a single or joint claim depends on things like:

  • the country where you or your partner live or work
  • how long the person who's abroad is away for - and for the reason why they are abroad

The sections below cover a couple of common situations, which you may find helpful. But for more detailed information on what type of claim to make, follow the link below.

Your family isn't in the UK - help with your tax credits claim

Your partner works abroad for short periods - example of a joint claim

Marie and Dave are living together. Dave has started work as a coach driver and drives abroad, taking groups on holiday to Europe. Dave can be away for up to two weeks at a time, but he usually returns to Marie's house when he's not working. Marie and Dave should make a joint claim.

If Dave is ever away from the UK for more than eight weeks, their joint claim will end. They should tell the Tax Credit Office straight away if this happens. Marie will then be able to make a single claim - if she still qualifies - until Dave is back in the UK.

You - or your partner - are a Crown servant posted overseas

If one of you is a 'Crown servant' who's been posted abroad, you should make a joint claim. 'Crown servant' means someone who works for the UK government, for example, as a civil servant or a member of the armed forces.

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You travel to or from the UK to work

If you regularly travel to or from the UK to work, you're a 'cross-border' worker. For example, you might live in the Republic of Ireland and travel to the UK to work. Or you might live in the UK, but travel to another country, such as France, to work.

Cross-border workers - when to make a single claim

Make a single claim if either of the following applies:

  • you live in the UK and you don’t have a partner
  • you live in another country, you have no children, and your partner (if you have one) doesn't work in the UK

Cross-border workers - when to make a joint claim

Make a joint claim if any of the following apply:

  • you and your partner both live in the UK
  • you live in another country with a partner, you both work in the UK, and you don’t have any children
  • you live in another EEA country or Switzerland with a partner, and you also have children

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Claiming as a couple - how much tax credits will you get?

You could still get the same amount of tax credits as a couple as you would as a single person. For example if you have a child and you move in with a partner who doesn't work.

You can use 'at a glance' entitlement tables for a rough idea of the tax credits you could get for your joint income and circumstances. Or for a better idea of how much you could get, there's also an online calculator you can use.

Entitlement tables for tax credits

Tax credits calculator: find out how much you can get

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Keeping the Tax Credit Office up to date

You must tell the Tax Credit Office - within one month - about any relationship changes that may affect your tax credits. For example if you:

  • split up with a partner, and have been getting tax credits as a couple
  • start living with a new partner, and have been claiming as a single person
  • start living with an ex-partner again, and have been claiming as a single person

Contact details for the Tax Credit Helpline

Changes you need to report and when for tax credits

More about tax credits when your partner leaves or a new partner moves in

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More useful links

How to claim tax credits

When can you expect your first tax credits payment

How your tax credits entitlement is worked out

Tax credits for cross-border workers

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