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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Childcare benefits, tax credits and other help for working parents

If you're working or going back to work, and you've got children, you can get financial and practical help with childcare. From tax credits to flexible working arrangements, there's lots of support available to make your life easier.

Early years education

All three and four year olds in England are entitled to a minimum 12.5 hours of free learning per week for 38 weeks of the year. This can take place in nurseries, playgroups, preschools or at their childminders. This will rise to 15 hours a week from 2010, delivered flexibly over a minimum of three days.

Tax credits

Tax credits are payments from the government. If you're responsible for at least one child or young person who normally lives with you, you may qualify for Child Tax Credit. If you work, but earn low wages, you may qualify for Working Tax Credit. If you work and pay for childcare you may also be able to get extra tax credits to help with the costs.

Time off and flexible working

Time off ('parental leave')

If you're a working parent, you can take up to 13 weeks parental leave for each child until their fifth birthday (you get more than this if you have a disabled child). Your employer doesn't have to pay you when you take this leave, but they might as part of your employment package.

Flexible working

Flexible working lets you ask your employer for a new working pattern to help you care for your child. You have a right to request a flexible working pattern if you've got a child aged under six or a disabled child under 18. Your employer has to consider your request seriously.

To have the right to ask for flexible working, you must:

  • have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks
  • be the child's mother, father, adopter, legal guardian or foster parent - or be the partner of one of these
  • have responsibility for the child's upbringing
  • be making the application so that you'll be able to care for the child

You'll need to fill in an application form when you apply for flexible working. You can only make one application a year.

Job Grant

Job Grant is a tax free lump sum you may get when you start full-time work (at least 16 hours a week). You'll get it if you (and your partner if you have one) are aged 25 or over and you've been getting one or more of these benefits for at least 26 weeks before you started work:

  •  Income Support
  •  Jobseeker's Allowance (both types)
  •  Incapacity Benefit
  • Severe Disablement Allowance

For lone parents and couples with children the grant is £250. (If you or your partner are under 25 years, different rules may apply.)

How child maintenance affects your benefits

If you (or your current partner who you live with) are claiming Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the first £20 per week of any maintenance you receive will not affect those benefits. This arrangement has been extended across the Child Support Agency’s old and new schemes, and also applies if you arrange maintenance through a private agreement.

It is your responsibility to tell Jobcentre Plus about any maintenance you receive.

Find out more about maintenance and benefits:

Getting help from your employer

Many employers now offer their employees help to pay for childcare, this can include:

  • paying you cash to pay for childcare
  • paying the childcare fees directly
  • paying the child’s school fees

Should your employer offer any of the above, you will be liable for tax and national insurance contributions on whatever aid is given. There are other types of childcare support your employer could provide however, without you having to pay tax or national insurance contributions. These are:

  • childcare vouchers
  • directly contracted childcare
  • workplace nurseries

For more information on the different types of help you could get from your employer, download the leaflet below.

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Additional links

Help with money matters for your child

With a growing family, you could probably do with a little financial help. Follow the links below to find out what you could be entitled to.

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