There might be a cheap holiday club near you that your kids love. Image: Pexels
February half term is fast approaching and, while kids might be thrilled about a week off school, many parents still have to go to work. For those that do, finding affordable childcare can feel impossible.
It’s even more difficult in half term than in other school holidays, because there are fewer options for holiday clubs and activity programmes.
But fortunately, there are ways to scout for the best and cheapest childcare options for your kids this half term. There are also ways to get extra financial support for childcare and you might be able to request flexible working. Here’s everything you need to know.
How do I find cheap childcare near me this half term?
One of the best ways to check affordable childcare options in your area is to visit your local council’s website. Many council activity groups will be free of charge or cheap for families. There might also be discounts if your child attends for a full week or subsidies for low-income families.
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, activity clubs will be run at local schools so it’s worth checking with your child’s school. Leisure centres in your area may also be running kids’ activity groups.
If your child has special educational needs, holiday clubs should have the provisions to give them 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.
You can also contact your local family information service via your council to find out what affordable childcare is available locally. The service offers free and impartial information about local events and services available to children, young people and families.
Local YMCAs across the country offer holiday clubs and playschemes to keep your children busy and active over the half term. They most typically cater to children of primary-school age. Activities vary from place to place – and not all will be running clubs over the half term.
How do I find a cheap childminder or nanny near me?
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.
Can I ask for flexible working over the half term?
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 over the half term 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.
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…
Who gets tax-free childcare?
Families with children under 11 can receive extra financial support with the government’s tax-free childcare scheme. It is available to working parents who are earning under £100,000, though you do need to earn at least £152 a week. People who are receiving universal credit, tax credit or childcare vouchers are unfortunately not eligible (and accessing the tax-free childcare scheme would stop your benefits).
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. For parents with a disabled child, you can receive £4,000 per year. It can cover childminders, nurseries, nannies and holiday clubs.
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.
If you get 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.
Can you get tax-free childcare on universal credit? What other childcare benefits are there?
You cannot get tax-free childcare on universal credit, working tax credit, child tax credit, universal credit or childcare vouchers. This is because these come with extra financial support for families.
Low-income families will get more financial support on universal credit. If your annual family income is less than £40,000, you are working (both must be working if you are a couple), and you pay for childcare such as holiday clubs, you could claim back up to 85 per cent of your childcare costs through universal credit.
You can only apply for working tax credit if you already get child tax credit. Problem is, you can also only apply for child tax credit if you already get working tax credit. This is because these are legacy benefits and are being replaced by universal credit. You can find out more about how to apply for universal credit here.
The childcare voucher scheme has also now been closed for new applications and replaced with tax-free childcare. If you joined a childcare voucher scheme before October 2018 and you stay with the same employer, up to £55 of your wages a week won’t be taxed. The amount you take depends on the amount you earn and the time you joined the scheme.