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How to Get Help with Childcare Costs

Check how to get help towards childcare costs for working parents. The total amount you can get would depend on your household income, weekly childcare costs, and family circumstances.

CHILDCARE FEES: This page explains how to get help paying for childcare costs in the United Kingdom.

There is a list of family benefits available to help working parents cover the cost of approved childcare. Find out whether your employer can help you with childcare vouchers or a staff nursery.

The Care to Learn scheme could also provide you with weekly payments. To qualify you must be under 20 and starting a publicly-funded course.

Whereas, full-time higher education students with children might qualify for the Childcare Grant instead.

In some cases you may be eligible to claim for Child Tax Credit even if you are not working. Use the government childcare calculator for further help towards childcare for working parents.

Types of Childcare You Can Get Help Towards

As a rule, working parents can get help towards childcare costs if it is 'approved childcare'. Examples of approved childcare would include:

There is a simple way to search online for an approved childcare provider. You can also check their credentials before you use their services:

Early Years Childcare at School

Most working parents can get help paying for early years childcare if the school provides it. But, the child must be under five (5) to qualify for early years childcare. Help paying for the cost of childcare for children over 5 may be available from:

Child Care Provided by a Relative

Living in England or Scotland

You cannot claim childcare if it is provided by your partner. But, what happens if a relative, such as a grandparent, provides childcare for your children? In this case, you can still get help paying for childcare providing:

Living in Northern Ireland

Get Help with Childcare Costs for Working ParentsGetting help paying for childcare provided by a relative is possible if all these terms apply:

  1. The relative is in a childcare approval scheme in Northern Ireland.
  2. The relative cares for your child outside of your home.
  3. They are caring for at least one other child that is not related to you.

Living in Wales

To get help paying for childcare costs in Wales, your relative must be a registered childminder and they must care for your child outside of your home.

Foster Carers

Working parents often use foster carers for their childcare. But in England, they must register as a childminder or childcare provider for you to get help with childcare costs. But, the rules for foster carers claiming childcare costs differ in Wales, Scotland, and in Northern Ireland.

Free Childcare: 15 and 30 Hours (2 to 4-year-olds)

You can get free childcare and early education for some 2-year-olds and all 3 to 4-year-olds in England. As a rule, you get 570 hours of free early education or childcare each year.

Most parents opt for the 15 hours a week which lasts for 38 weeks of the year. It would stop when the child starts their reception class or reaches compulsory school age (if later).

Note: Free education and childcare is also available in Scotland, Wales, and in Northern Ireland.

15 Hours of Free Childcare

In England, all children get 570 free hours of childcare per year. You can choose to take fewer hours than the typical 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year.

Note: It is available from the term after the child's 3rd birthday. Your childcare provider or local council can help you find free early education and childcare.

30 Hours of Free Childcare

In some cases, up to 30 hours of free childcare is available (1,140 hours per year) and you can choose how to take it.

You can sign up online if you qualify for the extra hours. You will get a code that you must give to your childcare provider so they can reserve your place. You get the extra hours as soon as the next term begins.

Using a Government Gateway Account

You need to sign in to your childcare account every three (3) months to confirm your details for getting 30 hours free childcare or to pay for Tax-Free Childcare.

Use the Government Gateway user ID and password that you set up when you applied. Give the code to your childcare provider and if you registered for Tax-Free Childcare you will be able to:

  • Make payments into your account.
  • Pay your childcare provider.
  • Make an application for a new child.

Childcare providers will be able to sign in to their childcare provider account after signing up to receive Tax-Free Childcare payments from parents.

Childcare Service Compensation

You may qualify for a Tax-Free Childcare top-up refund or for compensation if you experienced technical problems with your account (e.g. you were unable to use the service).

Important: Thirty hours of free childcare or Tax-Free Childcare is available to citizens from EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein if they already have settled or pre-settled status (or were living in the United Kingdom before the 1st January 2021 and have the right to reside).

Eligibility Criteria

As a rule, you will get thirty (30) hours free childcare if you, and your partner, (if you have one) are:

Note: The limit of earnings would not apply if you are self-employed and you started the business less than 12 months ago.

You would not be eligible if:

Fostering your child means you will be unable to apply online. Instead, check with your social worker and your local council to see if you can get it.

Note: The 30 hours of free childcare is available at the same time as claiming tax credits, childcare vouchers (or Tax-Free Childcare) or Universal Credit.

If You are Unable to Work

You may still qualify if you cannot work but your partner is working. You would need to be claiming (any):

Applying for 30 Hours Free Childcare

You must provide certain details and information (including that of your partner if you have one) to apply for 30 hours free childcare. The details include your:

Successful applications get a childcare account. You can use the account to access your code for the 30 hours of free childcare. You can apply using the same online service if you pay for a provider and choose to get help with childcare costs using Tax-Free Childcare. It may take up to 7 days to find out if you qualify.

Free Education and Childcare Eligibility (for 2-year-olds)

The eligibility for free early education and childcare in England has conditions. You must use childcare conducted by an approved childcare provider. This free service stops when your child starts their reception class in a state school.

Free early education and childcare eligibility may apply for your 2-year-old. But, to qualify you must be receiving one of these benefits:

From the term after a child's 2nd birthday they can also qualify for free early education and childcare if any of these apply:

Tax-Free Childcare

Up to £500 is available every three (3) months (up to £2,000 per year) for each child to help with the costs of approved childcare. Getting Tax-Free Childcare means the government pays £2 for every £8 that you pay to your childcare provider using an online account.

Moreover, working families can use HMRC Tax-Free Childcare to help cover the cost of summer holiday activities for children, including:

Note: Qualification means you can get Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours free childcare at the same time. You can sign in to your childcare account if you have already completed the registration process.

Eligibility Criteria

You and Your Partner

As a rule, you will get Tax-Free Childcare if you, and your partner, (if you have one) are:

Note: The limit of earnings would not apply if you are self-employed and you started the business less than 12 months ago.

You would not be eligible if:

Not Currently In Work

Starting (or re-starting) work within the next 31 days means you can also apply. Being on parental leave means you would not be able to apply for the child you are taking leave for.

You may still qualify if you cannot work but your partner is working. You would need to be claiming (any):

Your Child

They must be eleven (11) or under and they must 'usually' live with you. They would stop being eligible on the 1st of September following their 11th birthday. Foster children do not qualify but adopted children do.

A disabled child might get up to £4,000 per year until they turn seventeen (17) years old. They would be eligible if:

Your Childcare Provider

The childcare provider must also be signed up to the scheme so you can pay them and then benefit from Tax-Free Childcare. You may need to check that your provider has signed up.

Getting Childcare Vouchers, Tax Credits, or Universal Credit

You cannot claim Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Universal Credit (or childcare vouchers) and get Tax-Free Childcare at the same time. The best scheme for you would depend on your situation. You can use the childcare calculator to work out the best type of support for your circumstances.

When Support Stops

Apply for Tax-Free Childcare before cancelling a Universal Credit claim. A successful application for the Tax-Free Childcare means:

Applying for Tax-Free Childcare

You must provide certain details and information (including that of your partner if you have one) to apply for Tax-Free Childcare. The details include your:

After you apply for a childcare account you can make a payment the day after putting money into the account. As a rule, it takes three (3) working days for money to reach the account of your childcare provider.

You will also find out if you qualify for Tax-Free Childcare and the 30 hours of free childcare (both). It may take up to 7 days to find out if you qualify.

Childcare Tax Credits

Childcare tax relief applies for Working Tax Credit even for those on leave or ready to start a new job. Other childcare tax credits available include:

What if You Already Claim Tax Credits?

  1. Update your claim by calling the Tax Credit Helpline. You do not need a new claim form if you are already claiming tax credits.
  2. Inform the Tax Credits Office about any changes to your circumstances. An example could be when your childcare costs change by an average of £10 or more or they stop altogether.
  3. You need to renew your claim each year and you will receive a reminder.

Universal Credit

Having eligibility for Universal Credit means you may claim back up to 85% of your childcare costs. As a rule, you and your partner (if you live with them) would need to (either):

You can make a claim for Universal Credit online. If you qualify the most that you can get back each month is:

If You Stop Working

You must inform the Universal Credit helpline if you are no longer in work. But, you would be able to continue claiming childcare costs for at least one (1) month after your job ends.

Universal Credit Helpline
Telephone: 0800 328 9344
Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
More information on call charges.

Childcare Voucher Scheme

Many employers help with the cost of child care using childcare vouchers. They may also have other schemes available such as a staff nursery. But, you are liable for Income Tax and National Insurance on certain kinds of child care support.

Childcare Schemes not Liable for Tax and National Insurance

Tax and National Insurance is not payable on childcare vouchers or workplace nurseries. You also do not pay it on child care that your employer arranges with an approved provider. The government defines this service childcare scheme as 'directly contracted childcare'.

The most you can get from childcare vouchers is £55 a week. The amount depends on your earnings and when you joined the childcare voucher scheme.

But, they may affect the amount of tax credits you get. So, you should work out whether you are better off taking childcare vouchers.

Taxable Childcare Schemes and National Insurance

There are some childcare schemes which you must pay tax and National Insurance on. These include:

Changes to Childcare Vouchers

Note: The childcare voucher schemes will close to new applicants from the 4th of October 2018. Check to see it you can get Tax-Free Childcare instead (see above).

Help with Childcare Costs While You Study

Studying at School or Sixth form

The Care to Learn program could provide you with extra weekly payments. You must be under 20 years old when the publicly-funded course begins. As a rule these courses run at some schools or sixth forms.

Study in Further Education

You may be eligible for Discretionary Learner Support funding. DLS pays for childcare if you are 20 or over and studying in further education. Some examples of FE courses include NVQ, BTEC or PGCE.

Full-time Higher Education

The Childcare Grant may also help with childcare costs. You can claim for the Childcare Grant if you are in full-time higher education. It could pay towards child care fees for children under 15 (under 17 for those with special needs).

Help with Childcare Costs for Working Parents in the United Kingdom