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It’s one of the biggest parenting dilemmas: you have to go to work in order to pay for the things your children need – but who is going to look after your children while you’re at work?

Unless your working hours align perfectly with the school schedule, childcare costs are almost impossible to avoid and are one of the biggest expenses a parent must undertake.

While some may have a grandparent or neighbour who can help out, many parents must pay for an alternative form of childcare to fill the extra out-of-school hours.

There are many ways to save money on childcare costs and after-school clubs, helping to lessen the financial stress and give you peace of mind that your kids are safe and sound while you’re away.

What kind of childcare can I get funding for?

Based on the age of your children, the amount of childcare you require and the hours you need covered, the cost can vary greatly.

A recent survey by Family and Childcare Trust discovered the average weekly childcare costs for school-age children:

  • Before and after-school clubs (15 hours): £48.97
  • Nursery (25 hours): £111.88
  • Childminder (25 hours): £103.48
  • After-school childminder (15 hours): £66.53

With 39 weeks in the average school year, plus half-term and summer holidays, these figures can quickly add up. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be eligible for a childcare voucher scheme or alternative government funding to contribute to the cost.

In order to qualify for financial help, the childcare provider you use must be registered and regulated. Check to find a registered childminder in your area, along with clubs that run before and after school, and during the holidays.

Can I get free childcare?

Children in England between the ages of three and four years old are entitled to 570 hours of free childcare or early education each year. Depending on household circumstances, some two-year-olds could qualify as well.

You may also be able to claim Child Tax Credit, which can contribute towards the cost of childcare for children aged 16 and younger. Depending on your household income and the number of children you have, you could get between £545 and £2,780 a year for each child.

Parents who work might be able to claim the childcare element of Working Tax Credit – up to £122.50 for one child, or £210 for two or more children each week. In order to be considered, you and your partner must both work more than 16 hours each week and your household income must be less than £46,000.

Use the tax credits calculator to find out what funding you may be eligible for.

How do childcare vouchers work?

If your employee offers a childcare voucher scheme, it could be worth taking part and using them towards the overall cost of your childcare.

Typically, you’ll make a salary sacrifice in exchange for vouchers, which works out cheaper for you in the long run as you don’t pay tax or National Insurance on childcare vouchers. Depending on your employer, you can get up to £55 per week towards the cost of childcare.

If you have the option to use childcare vouchers and are also eligible for tax credits, it may be more beneficial to use one scheme rather than the other – the better off calculator can help you work out which route is best for you.

Keep in mind that the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme will be launched in early 2017. Those who want to sign up for childcare vouchers must do so before April 2018.

After the scheme begins, parents who currently use childcare vouchers can continue to do so for as long as their children are eligible, but those who haven’t registered before April 2018 will be required to sign up for Tax-Free Childcare instead.

How can I save money on childcare?

In addition to exploring funding options, you may be able to save on the cost by:

  • Speaking to other parents: Make arrangements with other local parents who have flexible schedules, and share childminding duties between yourselves.
  • Approaching your employer: Speak to other parents in your workplace and make a case to approach your employer about signing up for a childcare voucher scheme.
  • Considering flexible working: All employees who have been at their workplace for at least 26 weeks have a right to request flexible working.

Though arranging childcare can be a daunting task, there are many ways you can save on the cost. Check to see if you’re eligible for government schemes and take advantage of childcare vouchers if you can.

Speak to other parents in your area to learn about how they subsidise their childcare needs – chances are they’ve faced the same dilemma, and by working together you may be able to help each other find a solution!

 

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