The price of child care is high in many places, even to the point of making a return to work feel unfeasible for some parents. If you’re a working parent in the UK, you may be eligible for financial help towards your childcare costs, providing you meet certain eligibility criteria and use a registered child care provider.
Here is an overview of the application process and where to find help navigating the system.
See also: How to Claim Child Benefit in The UK
1. Check your eligibility
You may be eligible for extra tax credit help toward your childcare costs in the UK if you are responsible for a child, work at least 16 hours per week, qualify already for working tax credits, and use a registered child care provider. In the case of couples, usually both partners have to work at least 16 hours a week, unless there are special circumstances such as one partner being unable to work due to illness.
At present, the available allowance is up to £122.50 extra per week for 1 child or £210 extra for 2 or more - although the total amount you may receive depends on your income.
2. Choose a registered child care provider
Approved child care providers might include childminders, nurseries, independent schools or home careworkers. To find the right provision for you, look for an OFSTED certified provider in England, or review the Local Early Years Register if you’re in Northern Ireland. If you’re in Scotland your provider must be registered with the Scottish Care Inspectorate, and in Wales with the Care and Social Services Inspectorate.
You can only claim for care provided by a family member if they’re a registered child care provider - although there are regional variations described here, so if this is your situation it is worth checking out the local details.
3. Make your application
To receive an application form you must call the tax credits helpline, who will send you details. Don’t forget it can take up to two weeks to receive the paperwork, so apply early!
Keep details like payslips and receipts to show childcare costs, in case you need to support your application.
You must renew your application annually and make the authorities aware of any changes to your situation, such as giving up work, which might impact your entitlement to benefits. If your circumstances change and you don’t tell the tax authorities you could be liable to pay back any money paid in excess of what you’re entitled to.
4. Know How to Get Help
There is a good overview guide with links to relevant detailed documents on the UK government website and a calculator tool to assess what, if anything, you might be entitled to at the revenues and customs authority site. You can also access handy independent advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, including information about how to challenge and appeal decisions made by the tax authorities.
Don’t forget to reapply on an annual basis and inform the authorities if your situation changes in a way that could impact your claim. Although the process can feel heavy going, it is worth understanding the system and making sure you receive any support entitlement you might have.