Childcare Costs: Are You Claiming All You Can?

Childcare Costs: Claiming All You Can?
26 August 2016

If you pay for childcare, how much does it cost you per month?

A mother posted that question on the Facebook page of a group that's based locally to me, and the variation in childcare costs for families based in the same area as one another astounded me.

It's also well documented that the costs of childcare can be prohibitive, leaving many families feeling that they can't actually afford to work. Indeed, the average cost of full-time childcare is £212 per week. Tot that up on a monthly basis for more than one child and it's no wonder work feels unaffordable for some.

So if you're feeling the strain of paying for childcare, be sure you're claiming everything you can, and don't forget the 'free' childcare options available to you. My youngest isn't yet three but she's about to start nursery school at a funded place five days a week, which means I'm able to almost double my working hours without paying a penny on childcare. It's well worth looking into your options and not assuming you know what's out there in terms of affordable childcare.

Here's a rough guide to what you might be entitled to:

In England, three and four year olds can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. This will increase to 30 hours per week but that's currently being trialled in key locations around the country - and critics say it's an underfunded scheme and that some providers will be asking parents to contribute to the running costs of providing these 'free' places.

In Scotland, three and four year olds can get 600 hours per year (roughly 16 hours per week) of early learning and childcare.

And in Wales, three and four year olds can get 10 hours a week of free early education.

In Northern Ireland, funded pre-school places are available in nursery schools, primary schools with nursery facilities and some voluntary and private pre-school childcare centres like playgroups and day nurseries.

It's also worth noting that some two year olds may also be eligible for these schemes.

You may also be entitled to claim what's called the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this is the same as claiming Child Tax Credits though - the two things are completely separate.

To claim the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit you must work for 16 hours a week or more. The maximum childcare costs considered are £175 a week for one child or £300 a week for more than one child. You can be awarded up to 70% of what you pay or 70% of the maximum childcare costs – whichever is lower.

You can find out more about claiming the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit here:

Another option is to apply for childcare vouchers via your employer, but doing so may affect your Tax Credits payments. The current voucher scheme is going to be replaced by a new scheme, Tax-Free Childcare, in 2018 which allows families to get 20% of their annual childcare costs covered. But it seems the existing voucher scheme will run concurrently and some families may be better off on that, so you're best to apply for it now if you think it might help you.

It's bonkers that this is such a minefield but I think the best way of understanding whether you can get financial help with childcare costs is to ask other local parents what they do. I'd never have known that my daughter could do two years of 'free' pre-school if it hadn't been for another mum at the school-gates urging me to apply.

We'd love to hear what Playpennies readers think about childcare. What solutions have you found to the ongoing challenge of working parenthood? What works best for you? And if you've applied for financial assistance, how helpful has it been? And what single piece of advice would you offer other parents trying to work out how best to juggle work and childcare?

Leave us a comment below or join the discussion over on our Facebook page.


  • Ceri W.

    I still don't get it ha x

  • Nicola S.

    I believe you can start paying into a childcare voucher scheme whilst pregnant (not sure on the number of weeks but well worth looking into :grin:

    • Zoe H.

      Yes you can, and then your employer legally has to honour your voucher payments, and pay for them while you are on maternity leave!! An added bonus most people don't know about, you can get £1000's worth for free!

      • Pet

        £1000 worth free? how do you mean pls?

    • Emma L.

      I didn't know this, so just going back to work and just arranging the vouchers. Wish I'd known sooner

    • Carrieanne R.

      You also can't claim tax credits help towards childcare as well as the vouchers so may be worth checking which is better to use

  • Jodie K.

    Was actually cheaper to not work at all. Just handed in my notice to job of 10yeara after baby2

    • Helen M.

      Same with my family. But after I seperated and became single, I could afford to work and child tax credits helped with childcare. How messed up is that :fearful:

    • Phillippa S.

      This is such a sad reality. I like to work, to contribute to my family home and have that independence like so many others. It's wrong that this is taken away from so many of us

  • Gemma H.

    Both work so dont get help with childcare :/ crazy system

  • Lowri F.

    Not joking we don't get anything. We checked all of them and we don't :pensive: xx

  • Kelly C.

    Wasn't worth me going back to work Now 6 years on and 3 children it's hard to cope on hubby wage alone if he doesn't get the overtime but me going back to work would be silly cause I'd be bring home less then my childcare bill

  • Farhana C.

    Ah! Now i understand.thanks:kissing_smiling_eyes:

  • Katie T.

    The part that bugs me is that while I was a working single parent of one, I could get the childcare element for that one child, fantastic, it was worth me going to work with that bit of help. I'm now in a couple with three kids, he's working full time and we are just eligible for working tax credits and so also eligible for the childcare element. But if I went back to work we wouldn't get that, so I'd have to earn 500+ per week to afford the childcare but we would have less money to pay the bills, so potentially end up in debt or homeless. So either my partner has to be a sole earner or he quits his full time work in favour of part time so I can also work part time. That is the flaw in the system that supposedly rewards hard working families.

  • Kimberley D.

    I get nothing. I'm about to start a nursing degree and even Nhs bursary won't offer me any help with childcare. I don't know how they expect me to live on £400 a month never mind pay childcare. My son is 3 in December so I'll get some free hours in January but not enough. My town is also a pilot for the new 30 hours scheme but because he is only 3 in December the places are all already full. The whole system is a joke. I'm having to work full time placements with uni and every Saturday night for some extra cash to cover childcare costs. So for 8 weeks at a time I won't have a single day off to spend time with my child. But people choose to stay at home and yet get free hours for their 2 year old?! It makes no sense!! The hours aren't needed if you don't work!! :angry:

  • Jill D.

    I can understand where everyone is coming from. My daughter was in childcare 3 days a week and due to family circumstances now full time. It's £832 per month. Such a chunk of salary. I understand people cutting hours or even stopping work. The system is wrong

  • Emma L.

    Where I live in a "cheaper" area of Berkshire full time childcare is just over £1300 a month full time!! With a care ratio for a 12 month old of 1:3 the nurseries are taking nearly £4000 pm for every 3 children against 1 nursery assistant!

    • Katie T.

      And you can bet that again that the nursery staff are on minimum wage too!

  • Bev W.

    Makes me laugh.... it's not worth me going back to work lol how about if you decide to have kids u pay for them, not everyone else. System is so messed up, I get that but if you 'can't afford' to pay then don't have. I'm not entitled to anything. .. but then I wouldn't expect to, why would I? That's the problem with it all. People expect things now :angry:

    • Sarah A.

      I just didnt work and we did without luxuries. Some think that theyr hard up if they cant have the same lifestyle as before hols, nights out, new clothes for themselves regularly. I worked partime in the evenings for awhile til they were old enuf to stay themselves for a few hrs during the day. Then i went bk daytime partime.

  • Karen S.

    The problem is the cost of the child care it continues to rise. I was a nursery nurse and couldn't afford the half price child care costs on my wages for two children was fine with one. But once you add more children it's rediculous unless your on a really well paid job

  • Carrieanne R.

    The system doesn't work. You can't help from tax credits and use the voucher system, well you can but they just take the savings off from your tax credit claim and can leave you worse off.. You can't get the two year old free placements if you work so what even is the point of that. For us with two working adults and two children I either have to work full time and pay the majority of my wage towards childcare or not at all. If I worked part time we wouldn't get enough to cover costs even with tax credits help. To incentive for families to work at all. Each year we get investigated by tax credits and this year even went to full enquiry to live how we can actually afford our childcare. The answer is barely with a lot of sacrifices. Love my kids and wouldn't change a single thing but if you work full time you should be better off than those that don't

  • Sarah O.

    The system makes me angry! Not fair to people who work and still struggle. Someone convinced me to apply for tax credits. Not able to get anything when i went back to work and paying childcare cos i earned too much the year before while pregnant, so claimed the year after and got a little something to help, only for them to ask for it all back this year cos I earned too much. So I couldn't claim when i really needed it and then when i got something to help they are taking it back. So now i am worse off having to pay my childcare and paying them back. Really wasn't worth the hassle! Whole thing is a joke x

    • Kerry H.

      Same here! X

    • Sarah O.

      You too?! They will only getting the minimum each month out of me, as if life isn't tough enough x

    • Kerry H.

      They reckon we owe them 5k, I've never even had that much :joy: x

  • Kym R.

    What about those staff who actually work in childcare? Minimum wage for taking care the most precious people in a parents life, plus a load of paperwork which is rarely paid for! And people who work with children who have their own children then have to pay out for childcare themselves. Nobody works in childcare for the wages, they do it because they love their jobs but we still need to make a living too.

  • Fiona S.

    Still confused have a read

  • Clare G.

    It was better for us if I stopped working when we had children as all of my wage plus some of hubby's pays the childcare bill, however, I stayed in work. Part time so I could get home to collect the children. (We don't drive and work a good distance from home it takes a while to commute) next year when my youngest goes to school we will benefit. I've got the hours I need to be home for them after school and I've managed to secure a term time contract meaning I work more in the term weeks to get school holidays off. We won't need any childcare at all and all of my wage will finally be ours. It's been a long hard slog for almost 5 years and just one more year to go. But we will get there. I also think the way nursery's are allowed to determine what the 15 hours free reduction is to parents is unfair. Each nursery does it differently. I read somewhere that each nursery get around £4 per hour subsidiary. Our reduction equates to £2.80 per hour. Some nurseries take off the full amount making some better off than others. All because the children have a full time place. There should be a set calculation so everyone gets the same benefits.

  • Danielle N.

    It's all very well being entitled to something if it's actually possible to get it! 3 hours a day doesn't actually help if you work longer than that, and we couldn't use a nursery because I worked longer than 9-5! We accepted these costs before we decided to have children, but it is annoying that our taxes are going to help other people get free childcare when we could never get it!

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