EXTRA help is available for parents struggling to cover the cost of childcare during school holidays.
Tax breaks and government grants are among the schemes in place to help make childcare more affordable.
In order to access government help, you must use an approved childcare provider.
This includes registered childminders, nannies, playschemes, nurseries, or clubs, registered schools, or a home care worker employed by an approved agency.
You can use the Ofsted website to check if your local childcare provider has been approved.
It’s worth checking the government’s handy childcare costs calculator to find out which scheme will save you the most money, as not all of them can be used at the same time.
James Andrews, senior personal finance editor at Money.co.uk, said: “There are currently three main government funded childcare schemes that give you a set number of free hours childcare.
“This will typically be between 15 and 30 hours free a week depending on the age of your children, your personal income and working circumstances.
“The support is available nationwide, but if you live in a different council area to where your childcare is based you may need to contact the relevant council to confirm your eligibility.
"This will help stop any delays in support payments as you wait for councils to speak to each other about your application."
You can get up to £500 every three months – up to a maximum of £2,000 a year – for each of your children to help with the costs of childcare.
If your child is disabled you can claim £1,000 every three months, up to £4,000 per year.
To receive the tax-free benefit you need to create an online childcare account.
For every £8 you pay into this account, the government will add £2 to use to pay your approved provider.
You should bear in mind that you can’t claim tax-free childcare if you receive working tax credit, child tax credit, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers.
Your tax credits will stop immediately if you successfully apply for tax-free childcare. You will also have to cancel your Universal Credit and childcare vouchers.
Use the government’s calculator tool to work out which option will work best for you.
Universal Credit childcare costs
If you claim Universal Credit, you might be able to get a refund on most of your child care costs.
You can claim back 85% of childcare costs up to £646.35 for one child or £1108.04 for two or more up to August 31 following the child’s 16th birthday.
You will have to pay your childcare costs yourself up front and then claim the money back through Universal Credit.
15 hours free childcare
All three to four year old children in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare – amounting to 570 hours per year – from the term after their 3rd birthday.
The free allowance is usually taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year, but it is possible to take it at a time that suits you.
For example, you could take fewer hours over more weeks.
The free early education and childcare must be with an approved childcare provider and stops when your child starts school.
Parents are expected to cover extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.
30 hours free childcare
Working parents may be eligible to get more hours of free childcare for their three to four year olds.
In order to access the extra 15 hours per week, you must be working at least 16 hours a week on average and earning the National Minimum Wage or more.
For example, over the next 3 months you expect to earn at least £1,853.28 – the National Living Wage for people over 23.
If you have a partner, they’ll need to expect to earn at least this much too.
You can get 30 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year – during school term time.
You may be able to get free childcare for 52 weeks if you use fewer than 30 hours per week.
Check with your childcare provider to find out if this is something they offer.
You can apply online through the government’s website.
Once the application has been approved, you’ll get a code for 30 hours free childcare to give to your childcare provider.
Free childcare for 2 year olds
Parents living in England and claiming certain benefits can also access free childcare for their two-year-olds.
You are entitled to the extra free childcare if you currently receive:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Universal Credit, and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
- tax credits, and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
- the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
However, you may still have to cover extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.
Asylum seekers are also able to access this benefit.
Child tax credits
Parents can claim a basic rate of £545 per year in child tax credit, with an additional £2,845 per child.
If your child is disabled, you will be entitled to an extra payment of up to £3,435.
What are tax credits and how much can I get?
THERE are two types of tax credit – working tax credit and child tax credit – and almost 3million people currently get them, according to HMRC.
While most new claimants can no longer get the benefit – unless they get or qualify for the severe disability premium – as it's been replaced by Universal Credit, it's important those who do get them renew their claim.
Working tax credit is a benefit given to those in work, while child tax credit is for families with kids – whether they're working or not.
Whether you qualify and how much money you receive depends on your income and situation.
The rates vary depending on your personal situation, but you can get up to £3,240 for working tax credit or up to £3,435 per child for child tax credit.
With working tax credit, you need to work a certain number of hours every week, and your income has to fall below a certain level.
The number of hours you're required to work depends on your age, whether you're single or not and whether you have children.
The government has a handy calculator to help work out how much you should receive.
For each severely disabled child you are able to claim a further £1,390, on top of the amounts detailed above.
You can only make a claim for child tax credits if you already get working tax credits, as these schemes are being replaced by Universal Credit.
The government issued a warning this week over fears that scammers could be targeting tax credit claimants.
Help if you’re still in education
There are also some lesser known schemes to help young parents who are still in education pay for childcare costs.
If you’re under 20 and in school or Sixth Form you may be eligible for weekly payments through the Care to Learn scheme, which is designed to help out over the summer holidays.
This could give you up to £160 a week, or £175 in London, towards childcare and is paid directly to your provider.
If you’re over 19 and in further education you can apply for Discretionary Learner Support, which can be used to pay for childcare and other costs such as accommodation and travel.
And university students on full-time courses can apply for grants to cover childcare costs for children younger than 15.
These grants are worth up to £307.95 a week if you have two or more children.
If you're looking for a cheap trip out with the kids over the holidays, here's how to get a £1 ticket to top attractions.
Meanwhile, an investigation by the Sun found that parents are paying an extra £13 a week for branded baby formula.
Changes to the benefits system could also see thousands more vulnerable people get extra cash to pay their rent.
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