Don't have kittens if you expect twins

With multiple births on the rise in Britain, Jasmine Birtles shows how expectant parents can soothe their financial worries

As a Hollywood star, Julia Roberts' financial worries won't have multiplied just because she is expecting twins. For most of us, though, the pros- pect of twins or even triplets might cause sleepless nights.

As a Hollywood star, Julia Roberts' financial worries won't have multiplied just because she is expecting twins. For most of us, though, the pros- pect of twins or even triplets might cause sleepless nights.

"It really can be a doubling or tripling of costs," says Helen Forbes, director of the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba). "If you had one baby followed by another a couple of years later, you'd be able to hand down clothes and toys and equipment, but if you have two or three at once, you have to buy everything new and two or three of them at a time.

"Some things are more expensive too. A triple buggy, for example, can cost around £600 because it's quite a specialist item, whereas you could pick up a single buggy for under £50."

It is becoming increasingly likely that a pregnant mother in Britain could be carrying twins. The multiple birth rate in England and Wales has increased by 50 per cent in the past 20 years. In 2002, it represented 1.5 per cent of all maternities. The figure is slightly lower in Scotland (1.48 per cent) and slightly higher in Northern Ireland (1.54 per cent).

Along with the extra equipment costs (see the table below) come extra childcare costs - unless you have generous family members who will help for free. "For one baby you will pay around £650 to £700 a week gross for a 24-hour, six-days-a- week maternity nurse," says Leanne Royeppen of London agency Top Notch Nannies. "But for twins it is closer to £800 to £850 a week, and for triplets it's about £1,000 a week."

Even the normal state benefits penalise people who have twins or triplets. For example, the child tax credit pays a family element, depending on income, and a further amount for a baby under a year old. However, this baby element is only payable for one child at a time, so you lose out if you have multiple births. Tamba is campaigning for this rule to change but it is a slow process.

"The Government refuses to acknowledge that having twins is double the cost and triplets are triple the cost," says Ms Forbes. "We're also campaigning about child benefit. The oldest child gets a higher rate than subsequent children, and if you have twins they continue that, even if the second twin is just minutes younger."

To help with the cost of extra equipment, insurer Zurich has created the Twins and Multiple Birth policy for expectant mothers. It is available through broker Marcus Hearn (020 7739 3444) and can pay out between £1,000 and £5,000 as a one-off when you give birth. "This policy is most likely to appeal to parents with a history of twins in the family," says Maria Donald of Zurich. "The returns for the initial premium outlay are substantial, depending on the sum you choose to insure yourself for. It can be a big boost at the start, when parents have so many costs."

Importantly, those receiving IVF treatment cannot take out this policy as the likelihood of a multiple birth, if you do conceive, is far too high to insure. But if there are twins in your immediate or distant family, or even if you have already had multiple births, you can take out this policy once you know you are pregnant and before the 11th week of pregnancy (ie before your first scan). You can choose what level of benefit you receive - up to £5,000 - and if you have triplets, that sum will be doubled.

The higher the chance of having twins, the more expensive the premium will be, but if there is a real likelihood of a multiple birth, the returns may outweigh the initial outlay.

David and Kirsty Swallow, who live in Leicester, have taken out the Zurich policy three times because David has a history of twins in his family. The first two times, Kirsty gave birth to just one baby, but on the third occasion - three months ago - she had twins. "We paid £100 and received £1,000," she says. "It's very useful and I'm spending it on extra help. I have a cleaner once a fortnight, a nanny who helps for half a day a week, and a babysitter once a week. This costs £50 a week."

The Swallows already had a boy and a girl before the twins - also a boy and a girl - arrived, so they are able to hand down some clothes and equipment. But they have had many additional expenses, including upgrading to a seven-seater car.

"It's made my friends think about this kind of insurance," says Kirsty. "A lot of them couldn't believe it when we took the insurance policies out, but now that we've had twins, they're thinking again. Non-identical twins are more likely to happen if you've got a history of twins in your family, but identical twins can happen at any time to anyone."

Twins Triplets and More Week runs from 5 to 10 July. More information can be found at www.tamba.org.uk or call 0870 770 3305.

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