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Check if you can get the Early Learning Payment

This advice applies to Scotland

The Best Start Grant is a new Scottish benefit to help parents and carers on low incomes with the costs of looking after children. It is a package of three different payments, which you can apply for as your child gets older.

The three payments are the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, the Early Learning Payment and the School Age Payment. 

You can get an Early Learning Payment if you:

  1. Apply within the time limit – check when you can apply
  2. Have a child aged between two and three and half check if you are a person who can apply
  3. Are getting a qualifying benefit check which benefits you need to be getting. Some young people do not need to get any benefits
  4. Live in Scotlandcheck if you can get a payment if you’re not a UK citizen or if you’re a UK citizen who has been living abroad.

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

When can I apply

You can apply for an Early Learning Payment from your child’s second birthday up until the date that they are aged three and a half.

This is called the 'application window'.

Can I make a late application if my child is older than 3 years 6 months

You may be able to make a late application for the Early Learning Payment if you weren’t able to apply earlier because you were waiting for a decision to be made about a qualifying benefit.

If you are awarded the qualifying benefit for at least one day when your child was aged between two and three and a half (the 'application window'), then you can apply for the payment.

You must make sure that your late application is received by Social Security Scotland:

  • 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 three and a half, and
  • within three months of you being told about the backdated award – you’ll need to apply within three months of the date that the authority made the decision, for example, the DWP or your local authority.

Who can apply for the Early Learning Payment

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

  • you are responsible for the child - you get Child Tax Credit, Child Benefit, the child addition part of Pension Credit or the child element of Universal Credit for them
  • you are 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 two child limit

If you have more than two children, you may not be getting any Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit for your third or subsequent children. This is because of the 'two child limit' in these two benefits. As long as your Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit award recognises that you are responsible for the child that you are applying for, it won’t matter if you are not actually getting any benefit for them.

Find out more about the two child limit on our Child Tax Credit page and on our Universal Credit page.

If you've adopted a child

You can get the Early Learning Payment if you've adopted a child. 

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

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

You should send a copy of the legal order to Social Security Scotland rather than 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 request 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 may be able to get the Early Learning Payment if you're a kinship carer for a child. This means that you are looking after the child because a relative or close friend is unable to look after them. For example you may be looking after your grandchild, a niece or a nephew.

If you are not getting Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, the child addition of Pension Credit or the child element of Universal Credit for the child, then you will need to send Social Security Scotland proof that you are a kinship carer. This could be a copy of the legal order that allows you to look after the child or the agreement that you have with the local authority. If you're not sure if the local authority recognises you as a kinship carer, you can check this. For example, you can write to the local authority or get help from the kinship care helpline.

You should send a copy of the legal order to Social Security Scotland rather than the original. You can ask Social Security Scotland to send you a pre-paid envelope. You can phone them to request 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, including details of help available for kinship carers, on our kinship care page.

What benefits do I need to be getting to qualify for the Early Learning Payment

You or your partner usually need to be getting one of the following benefits: 

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

You or your partner usually need to be getting one of these benefits on the day that you apply for the Early Learning Payment.

There are exceptions if you are under 18 or if you're an 18 to 19 year old mother and still in some types of education or training.

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

If you think you might be entitled to one of these benefits, you should check this out.

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

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 

If you have applied for one of these benefits but not yet had a decision, you can still apply for the Early Learning Payment. 

If you are 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 are waiting for a decision about a claim for any benefit other than Universal Credit, the claim will be held for ten days in case a decision is made in that time. If so, then a determination about the Early Learning Payment can be made. If not, you will 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, for example, your child is just over three years and six months old, but you have 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 have been awarded the benefit for a date that did fall within the application window. Find out if you can make a late claim for a payment

If you are unsure about whether you can apply, check how you can get advice from a Citizen Advice Bureau on our get advice page.

If you or your partner are getting Universal Credit 

If you or your partner are getting 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 the Early Learning Payment as this is what will be checked first. It won't matter if you don't get any Universal Credit in the month in which you apply, as long as you got some for the month before you applied. 

If your Universal Credit is reduced because deductions are being made, for example for a sanction or for money you owe, this won't 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 on our page How Universal Credit is paid.

If you're under 18 you don’t need to be getting any benefits

If you are under 18 you don’t need to be getting any of the qualifying benefits in order to get an Early Learning Payment. 

If you're an 18 or 19 year old mother you don’t need to be getting any benefits but your parent or carer does 

If you're an 18 or 19 year old mother, you don’t need to be getting any benefits as long as someone else is getting 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 be getting one of these benefits for you because you are still at school or college. 

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

More information about Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits, Pension credit child addition and the Universal Credit child element

Read more about when you can get Child Benefit for someone aged 16 or over and under 20 on our Child Benefit page. 

Read more about when you can get Child Tax Credits for someone aged 16 or over and under 20 on our Check if you can get Child Tax Credits page. 

Find out about Pension Credit and what you can get it for on our Check if you can get Pension Credit page.

Read more about when you can get Universal Credit for a child aged 16 or over and under 20 on our page about how much Universal Credit you could get.

Rules about living in Scotland

In most cases you will be able to get a Best Start Grant payment if you normally live in Scotland and you meet the other conditions for getting the payment.

You do need to be getting one of a list of benefits in order to be eligible for the grant (although there is an exception for some young people aged under 18 or mothers aged 18 or 19 and still in education or training).

If you are not a UK citizen or if you’re a UK citizen who has been living abroad you may not be able to get any of these benefits. So you may not be able to get the Early Learning Payment (although there is an exception for some young people aged under 18 or mothers aged 18 or 19 and still in education or training).

Get advice if you’re not sure whether you are able to get an Early Learning Payment because of residence issues. Read our page about how to get immigration advice. 

Can you get a payment if one has already been made for a child

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

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

The child still needs to be aged between 2 years and 3 years 6 months in order for you to get an Early Learning Payment.

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