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What is childcare?

There are a large range of childcare services in the UK which parents may use to help care for their child. From services such as nannies, au pairs and childminders, to playgroups and nurseries, each service has a different associated cost. Parents can make a claim to the Government for assistance in paying for these childcare costs.

Who can claim assistance for childcare costs?

Anyone who has parental responsibility or a child that they are the main carer for can apply for assistance.

You can claim childcare costs for a child you are responsible for and who normally lives with you. If the child normally lives both with you and with another person (for example, their other parent from whom you are separated or divorced), you must have the main responsibility for them.

Do I have to earn a certain amount before applying for assistance?

There is no financial threshold to be eligible to claim assistance, but you must know:

  • how much your family gets in benefits

  • your working hours and how much you get paid (whether employed or in self-employment)

  • how many weeks you took off work for statutory maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave and how much you got paid

This will determine how much financial assistance you can claim. For example, if you earn less than average, then the government will provide more financial assistance. Whereas for higher earners, the government may still provide some assistance, but at a reduced rate.

What kinds of childcare costs can be claimed?

Childcare costs can be claimed if it's provided by an 'approved childcare' provider, which includes:

  • registered childminders

  • registered schools

  • playschemes, nurseries and clubs

  • Ofsted-registered childminding agencies (for England)

  • Care Inspectorate Wales-registered childminding agencies (for Wales)

  • Scottish Care Inspectorate-registered childminding agencies (for Scotland)

  • home care workers working for registered home care agencies

Can costs be claimed for childcare at schools?

Childcare provided by a school counts as approved childcare. However, for children over 5, the childcare must be outside school hours and on the school premises.

For more information, read Laws on children’s education.

Can costs be claimed for childcare provided by relatives?

In England and Scotland, childcare provided by relatives does not generally count as approved childcare, unless they are registered childminders and care for your child outside your home. Different rules apply if payments are being made through tax credits or universal credit.

In Wales, you can only get help paying for childcare provided by a relative if they’re a registered childminder and care for your child outside your home.

What about foster carers?

Childcare provided by a foster carer in England only counts if they are registered as a childcare provider.

You may be able to claim if a foster carer provides childcare in Wales or Scotland.

How much can parents receive for 3- 4 year-olds?

In England, all parents regardless of income can claim assistance of up to 15 hours per week. All 3- and 4-year-olds receive 15 hours per week of free childcare calculated over 38 weeks of the year (ie up to a maximum of 570 hours each year). 

In England, if parents are in work and neither earn over £100,000 per year in taxable income then parents can claim assistance of up to 30 hours per week. This applies to parents who are in work (or on parental leave, sick leave or annual leave) and who are earning at least the National Minimum Wage for 16 hours per week (this earnings limit does not apply to parents who have been self-employed for less than 12 months). If the parents are together, both of them must be in work.

In Wales, parents meeting certain criteria (eg each parent earning less than £100,000 per year) get up to 30 hours a week. This is made up of a minimum of 10 hours of early education a week and a maximum of 20 hours a week of childcare. In Scotland, all 3- and 4-year-olds receive up to 1,140 hours of free childcare (around 30 hours a week in term time).

This childcare must be with an 'approved childcare' provider and it can be claimed following a child's third birthday. It stops when the child starts reception class or reaches compulsory school age.

For more information, read the Government's guidance for England, Wales and Scotland.

How much can parents receive for children of other ages?

Parents of children aged two who are receiving certain benefits can apply for free education and childcare:

  • Tax-free childcare - parents who are in work can receive up to £2,000 per year for each child up to 11 years old, subject to their own contributions towards this childcare

  • Child tax credits - some parents are entitled to certain levels of child tax credits for children up to 16 years old

  • Universal credit - parents who are eligible for universal credit can claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs in respect of children up to 16 years old

To find out what help is available with childcare costs, use the Government's calculator.

Upcoming changes from April 2024

The Government has announced that free childcare assistance is being rolled out to cover children between the ages of 9 months and 2 years. Qualifying working parents will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week (during term time) for their children under the age of 3. 

Due to the practicalities of extending this free childcare, the process will be rolled out incrementally. From:

  • April 2024, working parents will be entitled to 15 hours of free childcare for their 2-year-old children 

  • September 2024, working parents will be entitled to 15 hours of free childcare for their children over the age of 9 months

  • September 2025, parents will be entitled to the full 30 hours for all children under the age of 5

Similar support will be made available in Wales and Scotland and more guidance is expected in due course.

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