Tax credits are worked out using yearly rates and yearly income figures. We explain how disregards work, which year’s income is used, what to do if the estimate is wrong and what to do when your income changes.
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Your household income may well change from one year to the next but only changes over or under certain limits will alter the amount of tax credits awarded at the beginning of each tax year. The limits for changes in income from one year to the next are known as the income disregards.
To find out more about what counts as income for tax credits see our income section.
How the disregards work
At the start of each claim – indeed for each year of a claim - you are asked for details of your annual household income for the previous tax year (in a joint claim, including that of your partner) and this is what the initial award is based on from the beginning of each tax year.
For example, if you renew your claim on 6 July 2023, which is in the 2023/24 tax year, HMRC will ask for your annual household income details from 2022/23.
From the start of the tax year, your award will be based on the previous year income unless you tell HMRC during the tax year that they estimate their income for the current year (current year income) will be different.
At the end of the tax year, HMRC ask you for details of the actual current year figures and they do a final comparison with your previous tax year income. This is how they work out exactly how much you are entitled to for the year and also whether you have been overpaid or underpaid.
Understanding which year’s income is used
|For your 2023/24 tax year award
|If your income goes down by £2,500 or less when compared to your 2022/23 income
|Your award will be based on your 2022/23 income
|If your income goes down by more than £2,500 when compared to your 2022/23 income
|The income figure used will be the total of your 2023/24 income plus £2,500
|If your income is higher than that for 2022/23, but by no more than £2,500
|Your award will be based on your 2022/23 income
|If your income is higher than that for 2022/23 by more than £2,500
|The income figure used will be the total of your 2023/24 income minus £2,500
When the tax credit award is renewed after 6 April, the initial award for the following year is once again based on your previous year income.
If the estimate for current year income is wrong
If you give HMRC an estimate of your current year income because you think it will be lower or higher than your previous year income, then you need to try and make sure the estimate is accurate, otherwise you may have an overpayment if it turns out to be too low.
The £2,500 disregard for income rises only applies when comparing current year (actual or estimate) to previous year income. It does not cover rises in estimated income. For example, if your previous year's income was £15,000 and you estimate your current year's income as £10,000 but it turns out that your income is actually £12,000 – the disregard will not cover the rise between £10,000 and £12,000.
Telling HMRC about income changes
In fact, by law you do not have to tell HMRC about any income changes in-year until your claim is being finalised after the end of the tax year. Because your annual income figure is used in working out your tax credit award, it can be difficult partway through the year to know if your annual income has changed significantly. For instance, you may get a small amount of overtime or reduce your hours temporarily and you cannot tell if and how much your annual income figure is going to be affected. However, if your income does change, you may carry on getting the wrong amount of tax credits if you delay telling HMRC. It is normally a good idea to report income changes as soon as possible. If you do contact HMRC when the changes occur, you reduce the risk of being overpaid or underpaid.
It is also worth bearing in mind that HMRC get information about earnings directly from employers who have to send them payroll information on or before each time they pay you (whether that is weekly, monthly, four weekly). HMRC sometimes use this employer data to adjust tax credit awards and to help finalise claims. If HMRC believe that your income might be higher than you have declared they may adjust your income figure to prevent an overpayment building up. However, if HMRC do this, they should let you know and you can challenge the figure if you disagree.
Claiming universal credit
The information on this page about whether to use previous year income or current year income (less the disregards) also applies when a tax credits award is being finalised after a claim for universal credit is made in the same tax year. However, different rules apply to how the income figure for either of the tax years is calculated. See our in-year finalisation page for more information.