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Life without childcare vouchers: making childcare work for you

3 minutes

Childcare: it can be a circus- worthy juggling act for most parents and in October 2018 the Government Vouchers Scheme ended, leaving many families looking for alternative arrangements.

But worry not – we’ve come up with a guide to help – we’re nice like that.

  • The lesser known childcare schemes parents might have missed
  • Clarifying the 30 free hours of childcare offered by the government
  • Making childcare work and tailoring to your personal circumstances.

Teacher talking to two children

Lesser known childcare options

Writing for LV= life insurance, Shannon Kyle (@ShannonDotKyle) finds out how parents are preparing for the end of the government vouchers scheme.

According to money expert and mum-of-two Emma Maslin (@MoneyWhisperer_), who runs The Money Whisperer website, parents should start by researching what’s out there. 

‘Many schemes available to parents are poorly advertised and little known when it comes to school-aged children,’ she explains. ‘I’ve done a bit of digging and found many.’

Her list of schemes includes: 

  1. Tax free childcare – this is for any eligible working family if their child is under 12 (17 if disabled). Once enrolled, the government will pay £2 for every £8 paid to a childcare provider via an online account, adding up to £500 a quarter.
  2. ‘Right to request’ – this is very under-promoted by the government, but parents can ask their schools to start providing childcare during school holidays, as well as wraparound care.
  3. Flexible working – all employees have a legal right to ask for flexible working, including part-time and compressed hours where an employee works more during school time than during school holidays, but still completes a certain number of hours a year.
  4. Unpaid parental leave – parents with at least one year’s service with their current employee qualify for 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child, until the child’s 18th birthday. 

‘There are 14 weeks of school holidays per year and most parents only get a maximum of six weeks of annual leave, so there is a gap to fill for everyone,’ says Emma. ‘But looking into these options can save hundreds a year and it’s good for parents to know their rights.’

What does 30 hours of free childcare really mean?

Last year, there was plenty of excitement when the government announced 30 free hours of childcare a week for three and four year-olds. But, since then, some parents have been left confused about what this really means and wondering, 'What’s the catch?’.


Let’s break it down. 

The cost is spread out over the year, but only applies during term time, so if you need all-year-round childcare, you only get 22 hours a week – it also doesn’t include any meals. The government is giving the money directly to nurseries but in many cases it’s not enough.

All parents are eligible from the school term after their child turns three, but some nurseries can’t even afford to run the ‘30 free hours’ scheme because the government funding doesn’t cover the shortfall. 

In fact, many are having to charge parents for previously free extras. In a 2017 survey by the Pre-School Learning Alliance, over half (53.1%) of those childcare providers who expected the new childcare scheme to have a negative effect on their business said they would be increasing the fees for parents to cover the new costs [1]

Your best bet is to check with your nursery or childminder to see if they have signed up to the scheme, and then visit gov.uk to register. If your child is two, you may be eligible for another free childcare benefit, though.

Making it work for you

Despite the voucher scheme ending and the confusion over the ‘30 free hours’ scheme, parents shouldn’t despair – there are still many different options to choose from.

One in four working families uses grandparents to help with childcare, and the good news is they can earn extra pounds while doing it. Grandparents  caring for grandchildren under the age of 12 could qualify for national insurance credits that can top up their income. See the government website on how to apply.

Holly Pither (@pitherpatter) is a new mum to Amelia, nine months, and runs the PitterPatterPither blog. She says she’ll be affected when childcare vouchers are stopped, but has taken steps to make things work for her.

‘Thankfully, my HR department told me about the changes, so I could apply in advance for the childcare vouchers, which I didn’t know you could do.’

In fact, you can apply for childcare vouchers before the scheme closes in October that you intend to use after the end date, as long as they apply before April 2019 – giving you an extra half a year of childcare discounts.

‘However,’ continues Holly, ‘eventually I want to use a childminder, and many don’t accept childcare vouchers, so I’m going to opt for flexible working instead.’

Holly plans on doing four-day weeks with two early starts and finishes.

‘My boss is a mum and so she just gets it,’ she says. ‘By being transparent and honest about what our needs are, we can make things work.’

Lucy Playford, (@HarrogateMama), who runs the Harrogate Mama blog, agrees that flexible babysitting is what works best for some parents. She has twin girls and a baby boy and often works from home.

‘I am self-employed, so I need to be flexible and find childcare for ad hoc meetings and events outside the home,’ she explains. ‘I use kids’ clubs during the holidays, grandparents, and shared childcare with other working parents. I have also put together a list of local reliable babysitters who I can call when I need them. For me it’s about flexibility.’

To find out a list of locally registered childcare providers in your area visit childcare.co.uk, who provide a list of childminders, nannies and au pairs by postcode.

Don’t let the fact that the government childminding vouchers scheme is closing leave you in the lurch. Whatever you choose to do instead, with a little planning and research, you’re more likely to find the alternative which works best for you and your family.

Citations

[1] Preschool Learning Alliance, 2017. Sector views and on early years funding and the 30 hour offer,  https://www.pre-school.org.uk/sites/default/files/30-hour_and_funding_survey_-_pre-school_learning_alliance.pdf, Page 8