Help with childcare costs

The cost of childcare in the UK is substantial. Families spend a large amount of money on nurseries and childminders, but there is help available. It's important that parents understand the various forms of government assistance which are available.

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 playgroup and nurseries, each service has a difference associated cost. Parents can make a claim to the Government for assistance in paying for these 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 main responsibility for them.

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 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.

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 and Social Services 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.

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 childminder. Different rules apply if payments are being made through tax credits or universal credit .

What about foster carers?

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

  • 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. In Scotland all 3 and 4 year olds receive 16 hours per week of free childcare calculated over 38 weeks of the year (ie up to a maximum of 600 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.

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.

Note: the above only applies to England unless otherwise stated - there are different schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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 thisthe Gov.uk's calculator.