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Help with childcare costs from the UK government

Childcare is expensive. While government support exists to bring costs down, it only helps if you know what you’re entitled to.

We’ve listed some of the well-known and lesser-known schemes that could make childcare more affordable. Are you getting everything you’re entitled to?

The information below is intended to give you an overview so you know what support is available. We can’t guarantee that you’re eligible for certain schemes but we’ve provided links to help you find out.

You might also be able to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit, which you could use to pay for childcare.

Free childcare hours (England, Scotland and Wales)

If you are a parent living in England, Scotland or Wales, you are likely entitled to between 15 and 30 hours of free childcare for each of your children.

This is available from when the child is three until they reach school age.

If you receive certain benefits, you may be able to claim free childcare hours from when your child is two.

Not all nurseries and childminders offer this scheme so you will need to do some searching. When you find one that does, contact them directly. They’ll ask you some questions to make sure you’re eligible and may ask you for proof, for example of the benefits you’re receiving.

If you live in England

When your child turns three, you’ll find 15 hours of childcare every week (for 38 weeks of the year, usually during term time) is taken off your nursery or childminder bill. This is paid for by the UK government directly to the nursery or childminder. Every parent living in England should be eligible for this support.

If you, or your partner, is in work, this is usually increased to 30 hours.

Parents who receive certain benefits may be able to claim 15 hours of free childcare after their child turns two for 38 weeks of the year.

Find out more about free childcare hours in England

If you live in Scotland

From the age of three, and until the child reaches school age, all parents living in Scotland should get around 30 hours of “funded early learning and childcare” every week during term time.

If your child has experience of care or you are eligible for certain benefits, such as income support, you may be able to get these free childcare hours from the age of two.

Find out more about free childcare hours in Scotland

If you live in Wales

Parents living in Wales also get up to 30 hours of free childcare for three to four year olds every week (up to 48 weeks a year).

However, at least 10 hours of this must be spent on early education, such as a playgroup or school. The remaining 20 hours don’t have to be used during term time so parents can make use of them at weekends or during school holidays.

Parents living in certain disadvantaged areas may be entitled to 12.5 hours of free childcare for 39 weeks a year from when the child turns two.

Find out more about free childcare hours in Wales

Funded pre-school education (Northern Ireland)

Parents in Northern Ireland should be able to claim at least 12.5 hours a week of educational childcare, during term time, for each child aged three to four years (22.5 hours in some settings).

However, this can only be used in pre-school (educational) facilities during the year before the child reaches school-age. The funding comes from the Department of Education so it’s not described as “childcare”, but as pre-school education.

Find out more about free pre-school education in Northern Ireland

Universal Credit for Childcare (UK wide)

If you’re eligible for Universal Credit, you may be able to claim up to 85% of the cost of childcare through this scheme.

This can be worth up to £950.92 for one child or up to £1,630.15 for two or more children.

Include your childcare needs in your Universal Credit application.

Find out about Universal Credit

Tax-free childcare (UK wide)

This scheme can save you up to £500 per child (£1,000 if your child is disabled) on childcare costs every three months!

If you pay your nursery, childminder or afterschool clubs through the government portal, the tax will be paid by the UK government, saving you 20%.

That means, for every £10 that the childcare costs, you pay just £8 and the government pays the extra £2.


You or your partner need to be working to be eligible to use this scheme. However, if you can’t work because of long-term illness or because of certain care responsibilities that stop you from working, you may still be eligible.

You can use this scheme at the same time as claiming the free childcare hours.

Create an online childcare account

Childcare Vouchers

You may have heard of this scheme which is now closed to new applicants. Childcare Vouchers allowed you to pay for childcare through your employer. The childcare fees came out of your pay before tax, saving most people 20%.

However, this scheme is now closed (unless you started it before 4 October 2018). It has been replaced by ‘tax-free childcare’, which will save most parents the same amount of money and isn’t reliant on employers signing up.

Care to Learn (England)

If you’re a parent aged under 20, you may be able to claim childcare support while you’re studying.

If your course is publicly funded, you may be able to claim up to £180 a week (£195 a week if you live in London) paid directly to your childcare provider.

The £180 can be used to cover things like the cost of taking your child to their childminder and keeping your child’s place over the holidays.

Find out about Care to Learn

Specified Adult Childcare credits (childcare provided by Grandparents and other family members)

Family members who look after a child under 12, don’t get paid directly but may be able to claim national insurance credits. This could help boost the amount of State Pension that the family member can claim when they retire.

You must have been under State Pension age at the time you provided the care and the child’s main care giver must have been claiming child benefit.

You can backdate a claim if you’ve looked after a family member’s child since 6 April 2011.

Find out more about Specified Adult Childcare credits

Additional Working Tax Credits for wraparound care

Wraparound care is usually provided by schools in the form of breakfast clubs or after school clubs, which parents pay for.

If you are eligible for Working Tax credits, you may be able to claim extra money to go towards this type of childcare.

You must be getting Child Tax Credit already to be eligible for Working Tax Credits.

Find out about Working Tax Credit

Informal support with childcare

Of course one of the best ways to save money on childcare is to ask for help from friends and family.

It’s not an option for everyone, but babysitting circles or taking turns looking after each other’s children can save you thousands of pounds.

Once your children start school, sharing pick-ups and drop-offs with other parents can free up time, which is particularly helpful if you’re working.

Just make sure you’re not paying anyone to look after your children regularly unless they’re a registered childminder. While you can pay someone on a one-off basis to look after your children in your own home, if this is regular commitment then they would technically be your employee and they would need to be registered as a childminder.

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