Years ago, once a couple decided to have children, it was the norm for the mother to give up work and stay at home to take care of her family. Things have changed dramatically since then and while many mothers cannot afford to give up work to take care of their children, there are others who just do not want to be stay-at-home mums.
Those who do return to work after having children are going to need to think about childcare. But this may not be as easy as it sounds because, let’s face it, childcare is a huge expense and can eat into your household budget. It is therefore important to think carefully about the type of childcare that would best suit you and your family and whether you could potentially get help with the cost.
Fortunately, there are free childcare options available here in the UK as the Government seeks to ease the pressure on working families. There are several schemes in operation across the UK to help working parents meet the costs of childcare. Below are our top five tips on how you can potentially go about getting free childcare.
1. Find Out What Schemes are Available in Your Area
There are various free childcare schemes available throughout the UK and what you might be entitled to depends on your circumstances and where you live. The age of your child will also play a role in determining if you can access free childcare, or at least get help with the cost of it.
Free childcare is available to three- and four-year-olds and the number of hours that this includes will depend on the country in the UK where you live. For example, if you live in England, your child may be entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare per week during term time. In Scotland, the free childcare provision equates to around sixteen hours per week during term time while in Wales, a pilot scheme is in operation testing a provision of 30 hours per week for 48 weeks of the year. Children in Northern Ireland can access a minimum of 12.5 hours of free pre-school during term time in the year before they begin primary school.
2. Check Your Eligibility
While funded early education is available for three- and four-year olds, eligibility criteria are in place. In two-parent families, both parents must be working the equivalent of sixteen hours per week at the minimum living or national wage. The same conditions apply for one-parent families. No parent can be earning more than £100,000 per year.
3. Check What Other Help is Available
Free childcare may also be available for two-year olds in certain circumstances. For example, if you live in England and are in receipt of the following benefits, your child could be eligible for fifteen hours of free childcare per week:
- Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income Support
- Universal Credit
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- Tax credits and an annual gross income of less than £16,190.
Beyond the provision for free childcare, there is other help available towards the cost of childcare in the UK. Parents with children under the age of twelve can apply for up to £500 every three months towards the cost of childcare. This amount is available per child.
If you are approved for tax-free childcare, the Government will pay £2 for every £8 you pay towards your childcare bill. Other schemes may be available, such as Tax Credits, Universal Credit and Childcare Vouchers.
4. Check Which Scheme Will Benefit You the Most
It may be the case that you are eligible for more than one type of childcare scheme, so it is worth finding out which one will benefit you the most. Free childcare is available for children aged two, three and four, depending on personal circumstances, but with the other schemes available to help reduce the childcare bill for children older or younger than these ages, it is worth doing your homework to find out what the best scheme is for you.
For example, the Childcare Voucher scheme is being phased out and replaced by the Tax-Free Childcare scheme. However, those who are already in receipt of childcare vouchers can stay on this scheme if it is more beneficial to them. The Government website has a childcare calculator that will help you to find out what type of childcare help you might be eligible for and how much money you could get towards the cost of childcare.
5. Find Out How to Claim Free Childcare Hours
You should know that free childcare hours are only available for use with approved childcare providers. Childminders must be registered with the relevant body, such as Ofsted in England, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales, the Scottish Care Inspectorate in Scotland, and the local early years team resister in Northern Ireland.
Funding for free childcare hours is sent directly to the childcare provider. This means that your childcare provider will be claiming on your behalf, so they should be able to advise you on how this is done. It is likely that you will need to sign a form giving the childcare provider permission to claim on your behalf.
Free childcare is claimed at different times, depending on when your child’s birthday is. If your child’s birthday is in January, February, or March, you can claim for the term beginning April 1st. If your child’s birthday is in April, May, June, July, or August, you can claim for the term beginning September 1st. If your child’s birthday is in September, October, November, or December, you can claim for the term beginning 1st January.
What Else Should You Know?
As the costs associated with childcare can be so high, it is worth finding out as much as you can in terms of what you are entitled to. You should also find out more about what the schemes entail and if there are any restrictions in place.
In terms of free childcare, there may be certain limitations, and these are usually in place to give nurseries more flexibility and to prevent parents incurring extra costs.
You should know that relatives such as grandparents cannot be paid using free childcare or tax-free childcare, but if someone you know is providing childcare for you, they can claim National Insurance credits to help them build their entitlement towards the state pension.