How the schemes work
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.