Tag: Childcare

Note: updated information about 15 hours free childcare for working parents can be found under ‘My child is 2 years old’ below.

One of the most important challenges for many single parents is finding trustworthy and affordable childcare. There are lots of different options for arranging childcare. You can use a childminder, or a nursery, or a combination of different things. It’s important to think about what’s best for you and your child and what you can afford. 

Here we explain the types of support you might be able to get and answer some of the most common questions we hear from single parents. 

Help with childcare costs

Using Universal Credit to pay for childcare

Common questions about childcare

Useful links

 

Choosing childcare as a single parent – Thea’s story

Single mum Thea wanted her son to be able to interact with other children in a school-like environment. Hear her story and advice for other single parents looking for childcare.

Help with childcare costs

Your options for help with your costs will depend on how old your child is, whether you’re working or not, and whether you’re claiming Universal Credit or other benefits. 

You can check your options using the childcare calculator on gov.uk. This will help you work out what help you can get towards your childcare costs.

Support for working parents

If you have children younger than 11 (or under 16 and disabled) and are working or self-employed, you might be able to get help through the government’s Tax-free Childcare scheme. The government will pay up to £2,000 each child per year (or £4,000 if your child is disabled) by topping up money you set aside for childcare. For every £8 you put into an online account, they’ll add £2.

You can use this scheme at the same time as using the government’s free childcare allowances of 15 or 30 hours a week, depending on the age of your children (see below). 

You can’t use this scheme if you’re claiming Universal Credit or tax credits. Opening a Tax-Free Childcare account will stop these benefits entirely. You’re usually better off claiming Universal Credit or tax credits instead, as they tend to pay more. If you’re not sure which option is best for you, call our helpline for some personalised advice.

I get Working Tax Credit

If you’re already getting Working Tax Credit and are working at least 16 hours a week, you can apply for the childcare element. This can help with up to 70% of your childcare costs. You can’t make a new claim for Working Tax Credit, and you’ll eventually be asked to claim Universal Credit instead.

My child is younger than 2

Unfortunately, there’s currently no free childcare if your child is under 2. But this will be changing over the next few years – see below.

There might be a children’s centre near you that offers things like a crèche – you can check using this childcare finder.  

If you’re working and get Universal Credit, you can claim up to 85% of your childcare costs through Universal Credit. 

This is going to change. From September 2024, all children 9 months and older will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week. And from September 2025, working parents with children under 5 will be entitled to 30 free hours of childcare a week.

Example for a baby

Anita has been on maternity leave and is claiming Universal Credit. Her baby Kira is 6 months old, and Anita has been told there’s a place available in her local nursery. Anita is going back to work for 3 days per week.

Anita tells her work coach she’s going back to work next month. Her work coach tells her how to claim the childcare element of Universal Credit, and tells her where to send her invoices and receipts from the nursery. Kira will be at nursery for 3 full days each week.

Anita’s nursery bill is £492 per month. Anita pays this and then claims 85% back through the childcare element of Universal Credit each month. She gets £418.20 as the childcare element in her Universal Credit the month after she pays her nursery bill. She uses her wages to pay for the 15% that isn’t covered by Universal Credit. So she pays £73.80 each month to the nursery out of her wages.

My child is 2 years old 

Depending on what benefits you’re claiming, you might be able to get 15 hours a week of free childcare during term time if you have a 2-year-old. You can spread this over 2 or 3 days a week. 

To qualify for this, you need to be claiming one of these:

  • Universal Credit (and not earning more than £15,400 a year)
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit or both (and not earning more than £16,190 a year)
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run-on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
  • The Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit
  • Support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act

Children also qualify if:

  • They’re looked after by a local council
  • They have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • They get Disability Living Allowance
  • They’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order, or adoption order

In parts of Wales, there’s a free childcare scheme called Flying Start.

If you’re working and claiming Universal Credit, you can use a mixture of free childcare and Universal Credit childcare payments. These cover up to 85% of your childcare costs.

There will be changes to the free childcare system over the next few years.

From 1st April 2024 

From April, you might be able to get 15 hours a week free childcare if you’re in work and your child is 2 years old.  

To qualify, both the following need to apply: 

  • Your child is 2 years old or will turn 2 years old before 1 April 2024 
  • You earn at least £8,670 a year and less £100,000 a year. 

The 15 hours will start the term after your child turns 2 years old.  

  • If they have already turned 2 before March 31 2024, the hours will start from 1 April 2024.  
  • If they turn 2 between 1 April and 31 August 2024, you’ll get the hours from 1 September 2024.  

To claim your 15 hours of funded childcare you can apply now on the Childcare choices website (if you are eligible, you can apply now for childcare starting in April).

Apply for 15 hours of funded childcare for your two year old on the Childcare Choices website. 

Further changes planned in 2024/ 2025

  • From September 2024, all children 9 months and older will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week.
  • From September 2025, working parents with children under 5 will be entitled to 30 free hours of childcare a week.

Example for a 2-year-old

Sasha works as a part-time painter and decorator for 16 hours a week and earns £176 each week. Her son Joshua has just turned 2 and goes to a nursery for 25 hours a week.

Because Sasha gets Universal Credit and earns less than £15,400, she can claim for 15 hours of childcare each week during term time. She pays for the other 10 hours a week through the childcare element of Universal Credit and from her wages. Her nursery gives her a bill telling her what’s been paid, what’s free, and how much she still needs to pay.

Sasha uses her Universal Credit online journal to record her childcare costs every month. Her work coach has told her which receipts and documents she needs to show each month during her assessment period. After paying the nursery each month, she gets back 85% of what this costs alongside her Universal Credit payment the next month.

My child is 3 or 4 years old

Once your child turns 3, you can get free childcare with a registered childminder or nursery.

The free childcare is for: 

  • 15 hours a week during term time if you’re not working
  • 30 hours a week during term time if you’re working and earning (on average) £152 a week or more. Not all childcare providers offer 30 hours free childcare, so check before you apply.

If you’re working and claiming Universal Credit, you can use a combination of free childcare and Universal Credit childcare payments (which cover up to 85% of your childcare costs).

There will be changes to the free childcare system over the next few years.

  • From September 2024, all children 9 months and older will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week.
  • From September 2025, working parents with children under 5 will be entitled to 30 free hours of childcare a week.

Example for a 3-year-old using the 30-hours scheme

Dave is a single dad with 3-year-old twins Bobby and Tanya. Dave’s nursery offers 30 hours free childcare during term time. And Dave is claiming Universal Credit, as he’s a care assistant and only earns £120 a week. Dave decides to work more each week now that the twins are 3 and the nursery says they can have full-time places.

Dave needs childcare for 50 hours per week, all year round. This is more than the 30 hours the term-time scheme offers, so he needs to top up the hours so his twins can be at nursery for longer.

To pay for the extra childcare he needs, he claims the childcare element of Universal Credit. This covers 85% of the nursery fees that aren’t part of the 30 hours scheme. Dave pays the other 15% from his wages.

Dave’s nursery charges £306 a month for the childcare hours that aren’t covered by the 30 hours scheme. Dave pays the bill each month, and then gets £260.10 through the childcare element in his Universal Credit payment the month after. The final 15% comes to £45.90, which Dave pays from his wages.

Example for a 3-year-old using the 15-hours scheme

Dave’s friend Nicky has a 3-year-old too. Her nursery only offers 15 hours a week of free childcare. But they’ve offered her a full-time place which means she can work more hours. 

Nicky decides to take the full-time childcare place. She gets Universal Credit, so decides to claim 85% of her childcare costs through the childcare element.

Once the nursery has applied the 15 free hours to her bill, she will have to pay £530 each month. She can get £450.50 each month through the childcare element of Universal Credit. So she pays the other £79.50 from her wages each month.

My child is at school

Once your child starts school, you might need childcare before and after school, and also during the school holidays. If you’re working, you can claim the childcare element of Universal Credit to pay for this.

From September 2025, working parents with children under 5 will be entitled to 30 free hours of childcare a week. So if your child starts school at 4, you may be able to get free childcare.

Example for children at school

Zeynee has 2 children, Ahmed and Meena, who are 6 and 8 years old. Zeynee works in an office for 25 hours a week. She has a long journey to work, so needs childcare in the mornings and some evenings.

The children have a childminder who is registered with Ofsted. The childminder can also take the children during the holidays, and Zeynee sometimes uses holiday clubs to help during the school holidays.

Zeynee is claiming Universal Credit as her income is low. She claims the childcare element to cover 85% of her childcare costs, including during the school holidays.

Zeynee’s childcare costs are higher during the summer because the holiday clubs and the childminder are full time. She records her childcare costs in her online journal each month and sends in her invoices and receipts using the address given to her by her work coach. She keeps copies of everything and gets proof of postage for free from the post office.

Zeynee’s childcare element is paid with the rest of her Universal Credit the month after she pays for the childcare. She has to pay the 15% that isn’t covered by Universal Credit from her wages.

Her childminding bill in term time is £316 a month. She claims £268.60 of this from Universal Credit and pays the other £47.40 from her wages.

During school holidays, her children go to a full-time holiday club for a month. This means her childcare costs go up to £1056 for that month. Zeynee records this cost in her journal and provides receipts as usual. The childcare element in her Universal Credit payment next month will be £897.60, so she’ll need to cover £158.40 from her wages.

Using Universal Credit to pay for childcare

If you’re on Universal Credit and working (or about to start work), you might be able to claim back up to 85% of your childcare costs. 

How much you can claim

You can claim up to a maximum of £646 for 1 child, or £1,108 for 2. These rates are due to increase to £951 for 1 child and £1,630 for 2 children from 28 June 2023. The exact amount you can get will depend on how much you earn from paid work, your childcare costs each month and how many children you have. This can also change as your childcare costs change. 

Types of childcare you can claim for

You must be using a registered childcare provider (called approved childcare). You’ll need to share their childcare registration number to claim the childcare element.

Record your expenses

To get paid, you have to record your childcare expenses in your online Universal Credit account and upload invoices and receipts from your childcare provider to prove that you’ve paid. Make sure you keep this up to date. Your work coach should tell you how to do this, or you can ask for help in your online journal. 

When you’ll be paid

You’ll get the payment the month after you’ve paid for the childcare and recorded your expenses. The money will be included with the rest of your Universal Credit payment.

     More on Universal Credit.

Common questions about childcare

Here are some of the questions we hear most through our helpline.

My child is turning 3 this month but the nursery says she can’t start her free childcare until the next term. Is this right?

Yes, this is right. 3-year-olds can start free childcare (15 or 30 hours) at the beginning of the first term after their 3rd birthday.

I need childcare for more than 38 weeks a year. Can I spread the free hours out over the year?

Some childcare providers will allow this – you’ll need to find one who does. You’d have fewer hours a week free, but they would be spread across the year.

My child’s nursery wants me to pay for lunch and nappies. Can they do this?

Yes, they can ask you to pay for things like this or bring them in, even when you’re getting free childcare. 

If you’re paying for your childcare, you’ll need to check your agreement with the nursery to see what’s included in the fees and what isn’t.

Will I have to pay a fee up front to secure my child’s place at nursery, even if I’m only planning to use the free childcare scheme?

Childcare providers aren’t allowed to charge a registration fee if you’re just using the free 15 or 30 hours schemes. But they can charge a refundable deposit to hold your child’s place.

Where can I find a list of nearby childcare providers?

You can use this online search tool (by Coram Family and Childcare) to find childminders, nurseries and playgroups in your area.

My child has additional needs. Where can I find services for my family?

The online search tool (by Coram Family and Childcare) has this information. Once you’ve put in your postcode, you’ll be able to choose SEND (special education needs and disabilities) to see what’s available near you.

What are my options for getting childcare so that I can study?

If you’re under 20 and studying at a further education college, you can use the Care to Learn scheme. This gives you up to £160 for each child per week if you live outside London (£175 in London) to help with childcare. 

If you have a place at uni, you can apply for a childcare grant. This can give you £188.90 per week for 1 child and £323.85 per week for 2 or more – or 85% of your childcare costs if this adds up to less.

You might also want to see our pages on support for single parents who are studying – either in further education or higher education.