Summer childcare: What are the options?

The school summer holidays are fast approaching and you may not have childcare sorted to cover the long weeks ahead. outlines your options.

Summer Holiday Childcare surveys consistently show that many parents leave it until the last minute to patch a childcare plan together for the school summer holidays that more or less works. This is in part due to the nature of being a working parent – there is little time to plan further ahead than the next day or week – and in part due to the expense of summer holiday schemes. The average cost of childcare during the holidays in Britain was £157.13 a week last year, according to Coram’s Holiday Childcare Survey.

If you can, though, planning at least a little ahead is a good idea. There are several options open to you for childcare in the long summer holidays, but due to the cost, it is important to ensure that you are claiming all the help you can with your childcare costs. 

For preschoolers, the 30 hours free childcare for three and four year olds and the 15 hours for two year olds – available to eligible working parents in England – is limited to 39 weeks a year in England and Scotland [it’s 48 weeks in Wales]. You can stretch the hours out for the whole year, so that you get 22 hours per week for 52 weeks rather than 30 hours per week for 39 weeks. Check your eligibility here.

Summer childcare options during holidays

Childcare options during the holidays will largely depend on the age of your child/children. Some schemes are age dependent, which can be tricky if you have more than one child. 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 as some schemes and workshops don’t even cover the normal school day.

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 or search the Government’s out of school clubs website to find out what is available near you –

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.


Summer 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 Ofsted – unless there are specific exemptions – 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 Universal Credit and tax-free childcare.

The childcare element of Universal Credit can pay up to 85 per cent of your registered childcare costs. For more information about how Universal Credit could help you with childcare costs, click here.

The way your 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.

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 credit award throughout the year to pay for subsequent holiday care.

For more information and to find out your entitlement, click here.

Tax-free childcare

Parents can register for Tax-Free Childcare through the Childcare Choices government website which gives information about the new schemes. The government says tax-free childcare can cut childcare costs for working families across the UK by up to £2,000 per child per year, or £4,000 for disabled children, but the amount parents save will depend on how much they spend on Ofsted-registered childcare. They will have to pay fees upfront and claim the tax back. For every £8 they spend, the Government will top up by £2. Tax-free childcare is currently available to those with children who are under 12.

Other options

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 and Koru Kids which offer a range of childcare solutions. Au pairs are another option, but, since Brexit, this has become much more complicated. 

Flexible working

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.

Parental leave

After completing one year’s continuous service with an employer, an employee is entitled to 18 weeks unpaid Parental Leave for each child born or adopted. You can apply to take Parental Leave as soon as you complete a year’s service.

In order to take Parental Leave you will need to make a request to your employer giving at least 21 days’ notice of the date on which you intend to start the leave. Your employer may ask for this notice to be given in writing.

Provided you give the correct notice to your employer and you qualify for Parental Leave, you should be able to take it at any time.

You should not take “odd” days off, unless your child is disabled or your employer agrees otherwise – Parental Leave should be taken in blocks or multiples of a week (based on your working pattern). You cannot take more than four weeks during any year.

Whilst you are on Parental Leave you will remain employed and some terms of your contract still apply, such as contractual notice and redundancy terms.

Read more here.

Holiday activities and food programme (HAF)

The HAF programme supports school-aged children who are eligible for free school meals during the summer holidays. 

Different local authorities offer different activities so you will need to check out your local authority website for more information. Forty three areas of England are involved in the Active Partnership Scheme which offers summer activities. Check out if there is a scheme near you here.

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