How the schemes work

The Guardian - - MONEY -

Child­care costs are soar­ing: re­search this year found the av­er­age part­time nurs­ery place for a child un­der two is £6,300 a year, ris­ing to £9,500 in in­ner Lon­don.

There are sev­eral gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives that can help. But “the con­fus­ing hotch­potch” of sup­port means par­ents are at risk of miss­ing out on the help they need, ac­cord­ing to the Fam­ily and Child­care Trust, which car­ried out the re­search.

So what’s on of­fer, how much can you get, and who’s el­i­gi­ble? Here are the main schemes. • Tax-free child­care In­tro­duced last year, this is for work­ing fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing the self em­ployed, in the UK with chil­dren un­der 12 (un­der 17 if dis­abled). Par­ents open an on­line ac­count to pay for reg­is­tered child­care – a child­min­der, nurs­ery, nanny, af­ter-school club, playscheme and so on. The provider must be signed up.

For ev­ery £8 you pay in, the gov­ern­ment adds an ex­tra £2, up to £2,000 a year for each child.

To ben­e­fit, par­ents must each earn on av­er­age at least £125 a week, but less than £100,000 a year. If you or your part­ner is on ma­ter­nity/ pa­ter­nity leave, or un­able to work be­cause of a dis­abil­ity or car­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, you could still be el­i­gi­ble. Kids stop be­ing el­i­gi­ble on 1 Septem­ber af­ter their 11th birth­day. To ap­ply, go to gov.uk/ap­ply-for-taxfree-child­care. • Child­care vouch­ers Un­der this scheme, of­fered by many work­places, par­ents can pay for child­care via salary sac­ri­fice, which cuts the cost by al­low­ing you to pay from your pre-tax salary. It’s now closed to new ap­pli­cants, but if you joined be­fore 4 Oc­to­ber 2018, you can usu­ally keep get­ting vouch­ers as long as you stay with the same em­ployer (and they con­tinue to run the scheme), and you don’t take an un­paid ca­reer break of longer than a year. You can’t con­tinue to claim vouch­ers if you suc­cess­fully ap­ply for tax-free child­care. • 30 hours free child­care Since Septem­ber 2017, three- and fouryear-olds from el­i­gi­ble work­ing fam­i­lies in Eng­land have been en­ti­tled to 30 hours a week (1,140 a year) of gov­ern­ment-funded care and ed­u­ca­tion across 38 weeks of the year. Some providers al­low par­ents to “stretch” the hours over 52 weeks. It must be with an ap­proved provider and stops when a child starts re­cep­tion (or reaches com­pul­sory school age, if later).

You sign up on­line to get a code. Your child can start in their child­care place the term af­ter they turn three and have re­ceived a valid code, which­ever is later. You can get the free 30 hours at the same time as claim­ing child­care vouch­ers, taxfree child­care, uni­ver­sal credit or tax cred­its. The £125/£100,000 in­come rule above also ap­plies.

To ap­ply, go to gov.uk/ap­ply-30hours-free-child­care. • 15 hours free child­care All fam­i­lies in Eng­land with three- and fouryear-olds are en­ti­tled to this a week (up to 570 hours a year). Fam­i­lies in Eng­land with two-year-olds who re­ceive some form of sup­port (such as in­come sup­port) can also get it. Con­tact your child­care provider or lo­cal coun­cil to find out more.

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