Money

How to find a cheap holiday club and get financial support for childcare over the summer holidays

Childcare can come at a steep price over the summer holidays, but there are affordable options out there for families who are struggling. The Big Issue's Summer Survival Guide has got you covered

Holiday clubs/ Childcare over the summer holidays

Childcare can be tricky to find over the summer, but holiday clubs offer a range of different activities to keep kids entertained. Image: Unsplash

As families across the country struggle with the soaring cost of living, the summer holidays will bring a new set of challenges. But there are free and cheap holiday clubs out there, and other options for financial support like tax-free childcare, which may help. 

The children’s charity Coram Family and Childcare has found that the average family is now spending £943 for six weeks of summer holiday childcare. This is more than double what families pay during term time, working out at £538 more over the six-week period. 

There is help out there for parents looking for affordable childcare options over the summer holidays, as well as financial support from the government and charities to pay for those extra costs. Here’s everything you need to know about where to find free and cheap holiday clubs and extra financial support to pay for childcare – like tax-free childcare and universal credit – for your kids this summer. 

What holiday clubs do local councils offer?

Councils across the country offer cheap holiday club programmes and activities for at least a few weeks over the summer holidays. The best way to check out cheap holiday clubs and childcare options in your area is to visit your local council’s website. There may be free options and there might be discounts if your child attends for a full week, or subsidies for low-income families.

For children who are eligible for free school meals, the government has rolled out its holiday activities and food programme. Councils will provide free holiday club places to children whose families are receiving qualifying benefits. 

These have to provide a healthy meal and a four-hour day filled with activities. They will typically run for four days a week, for four weeks of the summer holidays. The scheme may be run as a holiday club in its own right, or children may be offered free places in holiday clubs that already exist. It’s up to your local council how they choose to run the programme.

Most councils will offer a range of different options for children’s activities over the summer. There might be shorter activity programmes if you need to entertain your kids for just a couple of hours, or full days for parents who need childcare cover for the whole working day. Often, holiday clubs will be run at local schools so it’s worth checking with your child’s school if there is anything happening over the summer holidays.

If your child has special education needs, council holiday clubs should have the provisions to give your child one-to-one support and there may be discounted places – but you will need to check with the playscheme organisers to make sure they have the resources to give your child the necessary support.

What other cheap holiday clubs are out there?

Local YMCAs across the country offer holiday clubs and playschemes to keep your children busy and active over the summer. They most typically cater to children of primary-school age. Activities vary from place to place. At the YMCA club in central London for example, activities include a bouncy castle, obstacle course, circuits, athletics, swimming and football. 

The price of the holiday club will depend on your local YMCA and it’s worth checking if they offer discounted rates for low-income families – some might be run as part of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme.

For example, the YMCA London City and North is part of the HAF programme and is offering a limited number of spaces free of charge. You should ask your school for an HAF code. 

Kings Camps are another option for sporty children. Their main programme is called Multi-active, and it is offered to children aged between five and 14. Prices vary again depending on the venue, but they tend to cost around £200 for five days – a much more expensive option than most council schemes. You might be able to get a discount if you book in bulk, and Kings Camps do accept childcare vouchers issued by the government to give families extra financial support to cover the costs of childcare. These can be used for full or part payment and combined with any offers and discounts.

Most leisure centres across the country offer holiday clubs, and many will be held at local schools so it’s worth checking in your area for the best options to suit your child. There are many sport and football camps, arts and drama clubs and music groups running over the summer holidays. 

A useful resource to find childminders and nannies near you is Koru Kids. There are options for full days of care, part-time care and a mixture of both. These nannies are vetted, DBS checked and trained in childcare and first aid. You can also use the website Yoopies to find affordable childcare services (along with tutoring, pet care and cleaning while you’re at it). Prices range so you might have to search the database for the best childminder or nanny for you. 



You might also be able to get financial support from the government to help you pay for childcare, which we’ll explain in more detail now…

Can you get a childcare voucher to pay for holiday clubs?

The childcare voucher scheme has also now been closed for new applications and replaced with tax-free childcare. 

But if you joined a childcare voucher scheme before October 2018 and you have stayed with the same employer since then, up to £55 of your wages a week won’t be taxed to help pay for the costs of childcare. The amount you take depends on the amount you earn and the time you joined the scheme.

Can I get tax-free childcare over the summer holidays?

The government’s tax-free childcare scheme allows families to claim money back on childcare costs. This can be used in term time or over the school holidays and covers childminders, nurseries, nannies, after school clubs and play schemes.

For every £8 you spend on childcare, the government will pay you £2. You can receive up to £2,000 per child per year – that’s up to £500 every three months. 

Families with disabled children get extra support. You can receive up to £1,000 every three months (up to £4,000 a year). You can also use it to help pay your childcare provider so they can get specialist equipment for your child such as mobility aids.

Who is eligible for tax-free childcare?

Families with children under 11 receive extra financial support with the government’s tax-free childcare scheme. It is available to working parents who are earning under £100,000, although you do need to earn at least £152 a week. 

People who are receiving universal credit, tax credit or childcare vouchers are not eligible (and accessing the tax-free childcare scheme would stop your benefits). That is because they receive additional financial support through their benefits instead. 

You can get tax-free childcare at the same time as 30 hours free childcare if you’re eligible for both. If you are eligible for tax-free childcare, you’ll have to set up an online childcare account for your child. Parents and carers can apply through the government’s website.

How much childcare can you claim on universal credit?

People on universal credit can claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs. This only applies to people whose annual family income is less than £40,000, who are working (both must be working if you are a couple), and who pay for childcare such as holiday clubs. 

The most you can get each month is £950.92 for one child and £1,630.15 for two or more children. To find out exactly how much you could get, you should use a benefits calculator

You need to be either in paid work or starting a job within the next month. If you’re on sick leave or maternity, paternity or adoption leave, you may also be eligible.

It is advised that you pay your childcare costs up front and claim the money back as part of your payment, but you can get extra support to pay the costs upfront if needed. You can claim back up to three months of past childcare costs at a time. 

Universal credit claimants should report childcare costs in your online account. You can do this when you first make a claim, or at any point in your claim. The government encourages you to report childcare costs as soon as you pay for them, because if you leave it for longer than two months, you might not get the money back.

Can I ask for flexible working over the school holidays? 

If you cannot find any affordable childcare or cheap holiday clubs, you might want to ask your boss if they will let you work flexibly over the school holidays. 

Flexible working is a way of working that fits around your lifestyle, such as having flexible start and finish times or working from home if you can’t find affordable childcare. You might want to ask your employer to work from home or adjust your hours, for example. 

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working and employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. An employer can refuse your request for flexible working if there is a good business reason behind it, however.If your boss denies you flexible working you can request unpaid parental leave. You are entitled to take a total of 18 weeks for each child up until they are 18, with no more than four weeks in any given year. Find out more about flexible working here.

Check out our Summer Survival Guide for more tips on getting through the holidays without breaking the bank and check back over the holidays for the latest updates, tips and information on bigissue.com.

Do you have tips or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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