A guide to free childcare

Guide to Free Childcare

Within the UK there are many different options available to you when it comes to free childcare, with different eligibilities required. Below we provide a guide to free childcare, explaining what you’re entitled to and how you can apply for it, you can phone the number 0843 178 4621 to speak to Child Support regarding any questions you might have. 

To get help to pay for childcare, there are certain stipulations; it must be provided by a registered play scheme, childminder, nursery or club, a registered school, a childminder with an Ofsted-registered childminding agency or a home care worker who works for a registered home care agency. All of these are considered approved childcare and you can get help paying for these.

15 Hours Free Childcare

Every child in England is entitled to 570 free hours of childcare every year. This is typically taken in the form of 15 hours a week for the duration of 38 weeks for a year. However, there is room for movement of these hours.

Entitlement for these 15 hours free childcare begins the term after your child’s 3rd birthday.

30 Hours Free Childcare Eligibility Criteria

There are certain criteria that must be met to be entitled to 30 hours free childcare if you are eligible for these extra hours you’ll need to sign up online to get a code, which you’ll pass on to your childcare provider to reserve your place. Once you have done this, the extra hours will come into place for the next term.

To be eligible for 30 hours free childcare, you and your partner, if you have one, must be in work, or receiving parental leave, sick leave or annual leave.

You must both be earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week.

However, if you’re self-employed and began your business less than 12 months ago, the earnings limit won’t apply to you.

You are not eligible for the 30 hours free childcare each work if your child doesn’t live with you, or they are a foster child. If you or your partner has an income of more than £100,000 you aren’t eligible either. Also if you are from outside the EEA and your UK residence card says you can’t access public funds.

It’s also important to note that you can get 30 hours free childcare as well as being able to claim Universal Credit, tax credits or childcare vouchers.

30 Hours Free Childcare Application

To make an application for your free 30 hours childcare you must fill out a simple form on the gov.uk website. To do this you will need you and your partner’s details, as well as your National Insurance Number and if you’re self-employed you will also need your Unique Taxpayer Reference.

The application for 30 hours free childcare is relatively simple and will take less than 30 minutes to complete the whole thing. In some instances, you will be able to find out if you’re eligible instantaneously, but in some cases, it can take up to seven days.

If your application is successful, you will get a childcare account, this is what you use to get your code for the 30 hours free childcare, which you give to your approved childcare provider.

Free Childcare Scotland

The rules are a little different when it comes to free childcare in Scotland, here you are entitled to up to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare each year, which equates to around 16 hours a week in term time, this is if your child is 3 or 4 years old.

If your child has recently turned two, you can get funded early learning and childcare if you get one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • State Pension Credit
  • Job Seeker’s Allowance
  • Incapacity or Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit if your income is less than £6,420
  • Universal Credit
  • Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

If your child is the subject of a kinship care order or guardianship order, or they’re looked after by a local council, funded childcare is also available if they’re two or over.

Childcare at School

For some people, you can also get help to fund childcare that is provided by a school. This is in place for when your child is over the age of five, and the care must be outside of the school hours, but still on the school’s premises.

Childcare provided by Relatives

There are some instances when you are entitled to help with childcare that is provided by relatives, the rules are different for those who live in England and Scotland and those who live in Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you live in England or Scotland you are entitled to help to pay for childcare by a relative if they’re a registered childminder and they look after your child outside of your home. Also, if you pay them using Universal Credit, tax credits or childcare vouchers.

You are not entitled to help for childcare that is provided by your partner or paid for by the free early education and childcare scheme.

For those living in Wales or Northern Ireland, you can get help paying for childcare that is supplied by a relative if each of the following applied, they’re in a childcare approval scheme, they care for the child outside of your home, and they care for at least one other child that isn’t related to you.

For those living in Wales or Northern Ireland, you can get help paying for childcare that is supplied by a relative if each of the following applied, they’re in a childcare approval scheme, they care for the child outside of your home, and they care for at least one other child that isn’t related to you.

Tax Free Childcare

Tax Free Childcare was a scheme that was introduced in April 2017, it was launched to eventually replace the Childcare Vouchers scheme.

Find out if you are eligible for Tax-Free Childcare below.

Tax-Free Childcare sees you able to get £500 every three months for each of your children to help with the costs of childcare.

For every £8 you pay the childcare provider, the government will pay £2 through an online account if you are eligible for Tax-Free Childcare.

To be eligible for Tax-Free Childcare you need to be in work, or on leave, and earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week. If you have an income that exceeds £100,000 you are not eligible for Tax-Free Childcare.

You are only eligible for Tax-Free Childcare when your child is 11 or under, and they live with you. Eligibility will cease on September 1 after their 11th birthday. Foster children aren’t entitled to this, however, adopted children are.

For those with disabled children, you could get up to £4,000 a year until they’re 17.

To benefit from Tax-Free Childcare the childcare provider must be signed up to the scheme too, you can check with them to see if they are.

You won’t be able to claim Tax-Free Childcare if you are currently claiming either Child Tax Credit, Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit or childcare vouchers. To find out which is the best scheme for you, you will need to use the childcare calculator to find out the best support available to you.

Childcare calculator

You can apply online for Tax-Free Childcare and will need to provide your details as well as your National Insurance Number and your Unique Taxpayer Reference if you’re currently self-employed.

The application is relatively easy and will take around 20 minutes to complete.

When you apply for Tax-Free Childcare, you will also find out if you’re eligible for both this scheme and the 30 hours free childcare. It can take up to a week for some applications to go through, however, you might also find out straight away if you’re entitled to it.

Tax Credits

Tax credits must be renewed every year, you will get a reminder to ensure that you don’t forget too.

The Tax Credits which could be available for you include Child Tax Credit, for which you don’t need to be working, and Working Tax Credit, where an extra amount to cover the costs of childcare could be available.

If there have been any changes to your circumstances you must inform the Tax Credits Office, as this may change your eligibility for what you currently receive.

Universal Credits

There are some circumstances which will see you able to claim back childcare costs totalling up to 85% if you are eligible for Universal Credit. The terms for this include you and your partner are working, the hours don’t matter, or have a job offer in place.

In terms of what you could claim back, for one child the most you can get back each month is £646 and for two or more children it can total up to £1108.

You can make an application for Universal Credit online.

Childcare Vouchers

There are some cases where your employer can help with childcare costs, these can be done using childcare vouchers, as well as other schemes like a staff nursery.

In these instances you are able to take £55 a week of your wages as childcare vouchers, for this you won’t pay either tax or National Insurance.

Childcare Vouchers can impact the amount of tax credits you receive, so you’d be best working out which is the better option for you.

There have been some changes put in place for childcare vouchers, and in October 2018 the voucher schemes will be closed to new applicants. However, for these people the option of Tax-Free Childcare might be an option instead.

You’re still able to get these vouchers if you’ve joined a scheme and you get your first voucher before October 2018, so long as you stay with your employer and they continue to run the scheme and you don’t take an unpaid career break that is longer than a year.

Childcare vouchers aren’t an option for you if you successfully apply for Tax-Free Childcare. The schemes offer different things, and you’ll need to work out which is the best one for you using the childcare calculator.

If you are entitled to Tax-Free Childcare you must let your employer known within 90 days, and they’ll stop any new vouchers being issued. Once you’ve informed them you will be unable to rejoin the voucher scheme, which is why it’s best to use the calculator to find out which is the best option suited to your situation.

Employee Schemes

When it comes to employee schemes that are associated with childcare it’s important to know that you don’t have to pay tax or National Insurance on childcare vouchers, any type of childcare that your employer arranges with a provider or workplace nurseries.

But you must pay tax and National Insurance on money that your employer gives you to pay for childcare, any school fees your employer pays as well as childcare provider’s fees that your employer pays.

Childcare help whilst you study

There are different options available to those who need help with childcare whilst they study themselves. If you’re at school or sixth form you could be entitled to weekly payments through Care to Learn. These are available to you if you’re under the age of 20 at the start of a publicly-funded course.

When it comes to Further Education you can apply for Discretionary Learner Support, which helps you to pay for childcare if you’re 20 or over.

For those in full-time higher education, you can apply for a Childcare Grant which will pay for childcare costs for children who are under 15 or if they have special needs are under 17.