Help with Childcare Costs - Financial Support for Working Parents

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Registered childcare is vital in supporting children and enabling parents to get into and stay in work, but the cost can be a significant expense for families. Most working families are entitled to some form of support with their childcare costs, including those on higher incomes. So whatever your circumstances, find out more about the financial help that may be available to you if you are using Registered or Approved Childcare.

What are Childcare Costs?

Childcare costs refer to the money that you pay to your Childcare Provider for caring for/looking after your child or children, usually so you can attend work, training or full-time education.

Employers For Childcare regularly publishes data on the average cost of childcare in Northern Ireland.  A third of families in Northern Ireland pay more for childcare each month than they do for their mortgage or rent and many struggle to afford the childcare they need, yet are unaware that financial support may be available

This is why it is so important to make sure you are receiving all the financial support you are entitled to

With such a high proportion of your income going towards childcare costs, it is important to make sure you are receiving all the financial support you are entitled to.

Can I get help towards my Childcare Costs?

Most working families in Northern Ireland will be entitled to financial support with their registered childcare costs, although there are some exceptions.

You can only receive help with childcare costs that are being paid to a registered or approved childcare provider.

There are different types of help towards these childcare costs, with support available to working parents through the benefits system, Government support schemes or tax relief. The best form of help will be determined by your circumstances, such as whether you are working or self-employed, in a couple or single, and how much your childcare costs are.

There are different criteria in place that you must meet to be eligible to apply for the different forms of help towards your childcare costs.

You should read the criteria for each scheme or benefit carefully, as they may be different, but the most common criteria to qualify may specify:

  • working a minimum number of hours
  • children not to be over a certain age
  • household income not to exceed a certain amount
  • childcare provider must be registered or approved

You may not be entitled to help towards your childcare costs if you are already accessing support, and:

• you have ‘not recourse to public funds’

or

• you or your partner earn more than £100,000 per annum

What help is available?

The main forms of support with the cost of childcare are outlined below.  The amount of financial support you may be entitled to receive on each of those schemes will depend on your circumstances and it can be complicated working out what is best for you. It is therefore important to contact a Family Benefits Advisor, who will help you work out the most beneficial source of support for your family.

  • Employers For Childcare Family Benefits Advice Service - provides free, confidential and impartial advice setting out your best options for support, and what is the best choice for your family depending on your specific circumstances. The Advisors are available on Freephone 0800 028 3008 Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, or by emailing hello@employersforchildcare.org.  Last year, the team identified an average of £2,800 in financial support for parents who asked for a personal ‘better off’ calculation and over the last five years has helped families to access £54.5 million in financial support.
  • Childcare Choices - this is the government website that shows the different types of help there is available towards your childcare costs (not all available in Northern Ireland).
  • Financial help if you have children - a list of all the different benefits you may be able to claim depending on your circumstances
  • Childcare Costs Calculator - an online calculator which will work out how much money you could get towards registered or approved childcare


The Main Forms of Support with the Cost of Childcare:

You can find more information on the main forms of support with the cost of childcare below:

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work, which merges together some of the old benefits and tax credits. Universal Credit has replaced income- based Job Seeker's Allowance, Income-related Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.  If you are working, your Universal Credit payment can include an amount to help with the cost of childcare, equivalent to 85% of your registered childcare costs.  However Universal Credit is a means tested benefit, so therefore the amount you receive each month will depend on various factors such as your income and any savings you may have, your outgoings on childcare and rent, the number of children you have an if there are any disabilities in the household.

Tax Free Childcare 

Tax-Free Childcare is a government scheme available to working parents with children under 12 years old, or under 17 years old if the child has a disability.  

The scheme pays 20% of eligible childcare costs, with parents paying 80%.  

Eligible parents can get help of up to £2,000 per child per year, or £4,000 per disabled child per year, to spend on qualifying childcare.  

Tax-Free Childcare is available to both employees and the self-employed

Working Tax Credit  

Working Tax Credit is money provided to boost the income of working people who are on a low income and for eligible claimants can include an element towards your registered childcare costs. For new claimants this has now been replaced by Universal Credit

Childcare Vouchers   

Childcare Vouchers are a scheme run through an employer’s payroll aimed at helping working parents with the cost of childcare. Parents ‘sacrifice’ part of their salary into the Childcare Voucher account and, as a result, save on their tax and National Insurance.

Childcare Vouchers are accepted by childcare providers across Northern Ireland and can be used to pay for all types of childcare as long as it is approved or registered.

This scheme was closed to new entrants on 4th October 2018, however, those that had already signed up prior to that date can continue to use it.

Parents who had joined the scheme before it closed, remain eligible provided they:

  • make at least one salary sacrifice into their Childcare Voucher account within each 52 week period
  • do not leave the scheme in order to use Tax-Free Childcare, and
  • do not change employer




Registered and Approved Childcare

If you are entitled to help with your childcare costs, you must be using a Registered or Approved Childcare Provider.  Registered childcare providers include :-


• childminders

• day nurseries

• after school clubs

• play schemes

• holiday clubs

• summer camps

• school holiday activities

• nannies or approved home childcarers


Family Support NI is the public childcare register, which lists all Childcare Providers that are Registered or Approved with Health & Social Services within Northern Ireland. Search for Registered and Approved Childcare at Family Support NI.



Helpful videos for Childcare Providers:

If you are a childcare provider you may find the following links/video useful. They are designed to help HMRC customers understand tax and comply with the rules:

HMRC YouTube Page  

Webinars for self employed childminders, foster carers & shared lives   




Related Documents

HSC Birth to Five Years Booklet - Benefits and your Rights in the Workplace

EFC Childcare Vouchers

EFC Guide to Tax Free Childcare Sept 20


Last Updated: 16/11/2021