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The summer holidays are looming. What are your childcare options? If you haven’t got things sorted, don’t worry. Our surveys show that many parents are in the same boat and leave it till the last minute to patch something together that more or less works.
If you can, though, planning ahead is a good idea. According to the Family and Childcare Trust who have lots of information and advice for parents seeking childcare solutions, there are several options open to you for childcare in the long summer holidays, but it can become very expensive, so it is important to budget and ensure that you are claiming all the help you can with your childcare costs.
Childcare options during the holidays will largely depend on the age of your child/children. You will also need to think about your working pattern and how this fits in with dropping off and picking up your child from holiday childcare.
Most local authorities produce a booklet or information pack about holiday schemes in the area for children aged between 5 and 14. Often this includes details of activity and play-based schemes which may be local authority run schemes or charity, voluntary sector and faith based schemes. They are generally packed with activities for children including music, sports, outings, arts and play activities. Some will include a selection of all of these activities, whilst others will run specialist schemes. Speak to your local Family Information Service about what there is in your area.
For children under five, some children’s centres, nurseries and childminders can offer additional holiday care if your usual childcare provider is closed for the holidays. Again, you will need to speak to your local Family Information Service.
Holiday childcare can be very expensive but, if the childcare you use is registered with Ofsted, you may be able to get some help with your childcare costs.
All care for children under the age of seven has to be registered with Oftsed and many providers catering for older children will also be registered. Not only will they have met the minimum requirements for registration, but you may also be able to get help with some of your costs. If your chosen holiday scheme isn’t registered, speak to the manager about getting registered as it can benefit both of you.
For parents in receipt of out-of-work benefits, or those studying, many local authority schemes offer concessionary prices, speak to your Family Information Service about what is on offer.
For working parents, there are two main forms of assistance with childcare costs: the childcare element of Working Tax Credit and employer-supported childcare schemes.
The childcare element of Working Tax Credit can pay up to 70 per cent of your registered childcare costs. If you are renewing your claim, you need to get your form in by the end of July. If you are applying for the first time, you need to contact the HM Revenue and Customs Tax Credit Helpline, on 0845 300 3900, for an application form.
The way your tax credit award is calculated is based on your income and the cost of your childcare. The system is complicated and you will not receive a lump sum at the beginning of the holidays, but a weekly award throughout the year. This is calculated by adding together the number of weeks you will be using childcare throughout the year, multiplied by the weekly cost, divided by 52 (weeks of the year). If you are eligible for help, you will receive up to 70 per cent of this amount, weekly throughout the year.
Unfortunately, this does mean you will have a large amount of money to pay upfront for your holiday childcare, and you will then save your weekly tax credit award throughout the year to pay for subsequent holiday care.
Some employers offer their employees help with childcare costs through childcare vouchers, childcare provision or directly-contracting childcare. It’s worth speaking to your employer to find out whether they offer any schemes. Most companies who do offer assistance operate the scheme through a salary sacrifice scheme, whereby parents opt to take a reduction in their salary and receive childcare vouchers or childcare provision in return. The amount you receive in vouchers is not subject to income tax or National Insurance Contributions and it can save you hundreds of pounds a year.
Childcare vouchers can be saved up throughout the year and used to pay for childcare over the long summer holiday. Many companies now directly contract places at summer playschemes for their employees, and you can access these through similar salary sacrifice schemes. Speak to your HR department to find out what your organisation offers.
Schools tend to send out information about holiday playschemes – if not, ask. They may be able to make suggestions of subsidised schemes. You can also investigate services like Findababysitter.com which offers a range of childcare solutions, au pairs, holiday camps and the like. There are a plethora of different au pair agencies, including Granny Au Pairs. Another option is Student Nannies.
You could also try talking to your employer about flexible working over the summer, for instance, working more from home if your job allows this so you can cut commuting time, changing shift patterns or reducing hours temporarily [and perhaps making them up during busier periods during the term – you may be able to sell this as an advantage for your employer]. This would make it easier to pick up from holiday playschemes that often end early. Or you could talk to friends and family about sharing some of the burden, for instance, you could look after a neighbour’s kids for a couple of days a week and they could take yours for another part of the week.