Child benefit: how to beat the tax

From this week, child benefit will be means-tested for the first time, affecting an estimated 1.1 million families. Here is our step-by-step guides to beating the cuts.

Child benefit will be means-tested for the first time from Monday January 7, in an effort to save the Treasury an estimated £1.5 billion in the next year.

If you earn more than £50,000 and receive child benefit, the new rules could cost you thousands. Here is our guide to what you can do to stay ahead of the changes.

Will you be affected by the cuts?

It sounds obvious, but the first thing to do is work out if the changes to the child benefit system will affect you. Families in which parents each earn less than £50,000 will continue to receive child benefit without having to pay the money back.

But remember, your eligibility for child benefit depends not just on earnings but on "adjusted net income". This includes all taxable net income, including rental income and investments. Bonuses and benefits in kind count as well.

The new tax is calculated on the income of the highest earner, so combined household income is irrelevant. If just one parent earns more than £50,000 a year, the family will have to pay back some of their child benefit. Over £60,000 and the family will have to pay back the benefit in full.

How much will you have to pay back?

For every £100 of income earned between £50,000 and £60,000, 1pc of child benefit will be taken back via your tax return. For example, if you earn £55,000, 50pc of your child benefit will be taken back.

How do you opt out of child benefit?

If you decide to stop receiving child benefit, you can fill out a form on the HMRC website. The form must be completed by the person who receives the child benefit.

You can opt out at any stage, but after January 7 you will have to pay back any child benefit payments received from that date if earnings exceed the limits above.

What are my options if I keep receiving the benefit?

Salary sacrifice- If your employer runs a salary sacrifice scheme, you can use it to replace taxable earnings with non-taxable benefits, such as childcare vouchers. Alternatively, you could ask your employer to reduce your salary but make up the difference in your workplace pension scheme.

This could reduce your salary to less than £50,000, entitling you to full child benefit.

Pension contributions- If you earn £55,000 and make £5,000 of pension contributions, you will decrease your taxable income to £50,000. This means you will be eligible for the full child benefit and have more money saved for when you retire. Paying money into a pension means you also benefit from a reduced income tax bill. You cannot normally access the funds before you reach 55, however.

Transfer assets- You can transfer savings and investments to your spouse or partner if they earn less than you in order to reduce your taxable income.

Review your spending - Clare Francis, a consumer finance expert from Moneysupermarket.com, said: "If you can’t bring your income below the £50,000 threshold, think about what you can do to offset the impact of losing the child benefit.

"Check your household bills, look at where you can save money, maximise usage of your Isa allowance little things like that can all help to recoup what you lose through the child benefit tax."

Use the child benefit as a loan- Rosie Murray-West, deputy personal finance editor at Telegraph Media Group, has suggested a number of ways you could use your child benefit to your advantage as long as you don't spend it. You could put it in a regular savings account, for example, or in an Isa account, until you have to pay it back, so at least you are earning interest.

Become a company - A radical solution would be to start your own company, which would enable you to pay yourself a lower wage below the tax threshold and then declare and pocket dividends from your company shares.

Incorporating as a company isn't possible for most employees, as an anti-avoidance rule called IR35 exists to prevent "disguised employment", where someone is employed but in tax terms is self-employed.

But if you are a consultant or self-employed, you could go to an accountant to see if this is a viable option for you.