Here there are so many complex changes that a complete explanation is impracticable, but we would like to highlight three common situations.

The first is a better-off family, currently claiming only the £545-a-year ‘Family Element’ (which replaced the old tax relief). From April 2012 this will be more strictly means-tested so that a family with one child may lose all or part of it if their income exceeds about £24,350, and one with two children if their income exceeds about £30,900. That is a very rough guide and the income point at which benefit is lost will be higher if the family is paying pension contributions, or for childcare, or if a member of the family is disabled. As ever, when dealing with Tax Credits, the rule must be: ‘If in any doubt, put in a claim and see what happens!’

The second situation is that of a family earning less, currently receiving the Child Element for one or more children. All other things being equal, their annual benefit for each child will rise by £135 a year from April 2012. This may be some solace for the fact the Child Benefit is not to be increased next year.

The third is a family which, in say September 2012, discovers that their income for 2012/13 will be £2,000 less than for 2011/12. Under the old rules, they could have contacted the Tax Credit Office and had their entitlement for 2012/13 recalculated (the original calculation would have been on the basis of their declaration of income for 2011/12). However, any recalculation of a family’s Tax Credit entitlement for 2012/13 will ignore the first £2,500 by which income has fallen since 2011/12.