The school summer holidays are on their way (yours might have already started), and, boy, can it be an expensive time of year. Daytrips, childcare, holidays: it all adds up.
Did you know that there is cash available from the government for parents to help us out in the summer holidays? No, me neither. And it looks like we might be missing out on thousands of pounds' worth of tax credits and childcare vouchers that we don't bother to claim.
Martin Lewis of the MoneySavingExpert website has this advice:
"Many assume that payments from the government are the preserve of the unemployed, yet actually there are serious funds out there to offset the costs for working families.
"Combining these elements can add up. For example, the average help for childcare from tax credits is £68 a week which has a huge impact. After all, it's £3,500 a year. And don't think of childcare as just something for babies, actually it can even be summer classes for 15 year olds – if you're paying out, then you could be entitled."
This is Martin's four step plan for parents to make sure you're not missing out:
Step 1: Check you're getting your tax credits for childcare
Possible Financial Value: Up to £240 a week
Single parents who work more than 16 hours a week, or couples who both work more than 16 hours a week with combined earnings under £40,000, who pay for any form of registered childcare should urgently check whether they're entitled to tax credits for childcare. Families with childcare costs of more than £100 per week may be entitled to help at even higher incomes. The average help is £68 a week or £3,500 for a year – it only takes a quick phone call to see if you're eligible.
The help is available for any child from birth up to age 15, or age 16 if the child is disabled. As well as help with nursery costs, parents with school aged children can get help through tax credits to help pay for holiday childcare, breakfast clubs and after-school clubs.
Even if you only pay for childcare in the summer holidays it's worth checking.
For more information about how to claim contact the tax credits helpline.
Step 2: Are you eligible for childcare vouchers?
Possible Financial Value: £1,000 a year per parent on childcare costs
Many employers, large and small, offer childcare vouchers. These allow you to pay for any Ofsted registered childcare, for children up to the age of 15. You can receive vouchers from your employer up to £55 per week, or £243 per month, without having to pay tax or National Insurance. The savings over a year can really add up - talk to your employer about what they offer. In addition, both parents can receive childcare vouchers from their employers, even if you only have one child.
Step 3: Check out clubs and activities at your local school
Possible Financial Value: Provides free or low cost childcare in a safe environment
Throughout the year, many schools offer a range of activities for children, from sports coaching to dance and music sessions to drama classes. There are now over 14,000 extended services schools across England which offer Ofsted-registered childcare, as well as breakfast clubs, homework and study support and a range of fun activities such as sports, music, drama and art.
Don't think your child can only attend classes at their own school, they can apply anywhere there's something suitable.
Step 4: Free early learning for children aged three or four
Possible Financial Value: Free childcare and early learning for at least 12.5 hours a week
Every three and four year old can get a minimum of 12.5 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year in a range of places including Sure Start Children's Centres, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. This will rise to 15 hours across England by 2010 and some Local Authorities may be delivering the 15 hours already.
Source [MoneySavingExpert Childcare Guide]