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How to get free or discounted childcare this summer

SCHOOL is almost out for the summer and parents are scrambling to make sure they can keep their little ones entertained over the holidays.

Childcare can be expensive but there are several schemes and benefits in place to help families with the cost of holiday activities this summer.

Most schools in England will break up for summer on Friday


Most schools in England will break up for summer on FridayCredit: Getty

A new government scheme called the Holiday Activities and Food Grant has sprung up to help kids from low income backgrounds.

It was launched following pressure from footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford.

There are also a number of long-term options to help cover the cost of childcare.

You could be worried about how to balance work with childcare or whether you can afford to treat the kids during the holidays.

Check out our round up of all the help that’s on offer to parents during the 2021 school break.

Holiday activities and food grant

The government handed out £220million to councils to provide free activities and healthy food for under-privileged children during the school holidays.

The activities are free for all children in England aged four to 16 who are usually eligible for free school meals in term time.

Some government-funded spots are also available for children that don’t claim free school meals.

That includes those in care, kids assessed as otherwise vulnerable, families living in areas of high deprivation and children with an education, health and care plan.

The rules on this differ depending on which council area you live in.

Many of the activities are also open for other kids for a small fee.

Councils have been able to decide how to spend the money, meaning the provision varies across the country.

For example, in Oldham, Greater Manchester, the council has provided funding for a holiday club that will run throughout the summer break.

There are also trips to farms, Hollywood Bowl and local parks planned.

Nottinghamshire County Council is providing four four-hour sessions per week for eligible children throughout August.

Each session will include one free meal and creative or physical activities.

Children in Haringey, North London, can take part in a range of free activities including gardening, roller skating and a one-week film school.

Meanwhile in Wiltshire, the council has set up FUEL holiday camps where kids can enjoy arts and crafts, sports, dance, drumming workshops, zorb football, a climbing tower and healthy eating workshops.

Coventry Council has contacted eligible families who can book activities online, including sports camps, trips to the beach and art workshops.

Children in St Helen’s have a range of activities to choose from such as Taikwondo, coding, archery and cheer leading.

Opening hours differ depending on where you live and what activity you choose.

To find out what is available in your area, you should contact your local authority.

Tax-free childcare

Parents can get up to £500 every three months – up to a maximum of £2,000 a year – for each of their children to put towards care costs.

If your child is disabled you can claim £1,000 every three months, up to £4,000 per year.

To access the benefit you need to set up an online childcare account on the government’s website.

For every £8 you pay into this account, the government will add an extra £2 to use to pay your childcare provider. 

You can’t claim tax-free childcare if you receive working tax credit, child tax credit, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers.

Universal Credit childcare costs

If you claim Universal Credit, you might be able to get a refund on a large chunk of your childcare costs.

Parents can claim back 85% of childcare costs up to £646.35 for one child or £1108.04 for two or more.

You can claim back the cash up until August 31 following your child’s 16th birthday.

You will have to pay your childcare costs yourself up front and then get a refund through Universal Credit.

If you need to apply for Universal Credit, you should visit the government website.

Free childcare hours

All three to four year old children in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare – amounting to 570 hours per year – from the term after their 3rd birthday.

The free allowance is usually taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year, but it is possible to take it at a time that suits you.

For example, you could take fewer hours over more weeks.

Working parents may be eligible to get more of free childcare for their three to four year olds – up to 30 hours.

In order to access an extra 15 hours per week, you must be working at least 16 hours a week on average and earning the National Minimum Wage or more.

For example, over the next 3 months you expect to earn at least £1,853.28 – the National Living Wage for people over 23.

You can apply for this using your childcare account.

Free childcare for 2 year olds

Parents living in England and claiming certain benefits can also access free childcare for their two-year-olds.

Benefits include income support, jobseekers allowence, employment and support allowance and Universal Credit.

You’re also eligible for free childcare if you receive tax credits, and asylum seekers are also able to access this benefit.

However, you may still have to cover extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.

One million families have been hit by the two-child benefit cap, losing £237 a month – here’s how to get extra support.

Martin Lewis has explained three ways to get free cash up to £1,845.

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Helen Skelton shares her top tips for family activities this summer

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