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How to get free childcare, tax-free childcare and childcare vouchers to help with Easter holidays costs in 2023

This is everything you need to know about finding free and affordable childcare, financial support from the government and whether you’ll be able to work flexibly over the school holidays

The Easter holidays are here and, while kids might be thrilled about a week off school, many parents still have to go to work. In a cost of living crisis, taking time off may not be an option and finding free childcare can often seem an impossible task. 

Fortunately, there are options for free childcare and the government offers financial support to help people pay for childcare costs over the school holidays. 

We break down everything you need to know about finding free and affordable childcare, from the holiday food and activities programme to finding cheap holiday camps and childcare. 

We also explain what benefits you could claim to help pay for childcare costs, including tax-free childcare, 30 hours free childcare and the child element of universal credit

And if you have tried all this and are still struggling to afford childcare, we also detail how to ask for flexible working from your boss over the school holidays so you can fit work around your kids. 

How do I get free childcare through the holiday activities and food programme? 

Many councils are running the holiday activities and food programme to support low-income families over the Easter holidays. This is funded by the government and provides “healthy food and enriching activities” to children who are eligible for free school meals. 

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Councils are working with a range of organisations to provide free spots on their schemes. This could be at a drama group, dance camp, sports club or other play groups. 

Over Easter, all participating children should be offered a minimum of four days of face-to-face provision for free. Those days should be at least four hours long and eligible children will receive at least one free, nutritious meal.

Where else can I get free and affordable childcare over the Easter holidays?

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. 

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…

Who gets 30 hours free childcare? 

Families with children aged three to four may be able to get 30 hours free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year. This is only available in school term time. 

It is only available to people who earn a certain amount over the next three months. You and your partner (if you have one) must each expect to earn at least £2,167 if you’re aged 23 or over. The threshold is less if you and your partner are under the age of 23. 

You can get 30 hours free childcare at the same time as claiming universal credit, tax credits, childcare vouchers or tax-free childcare. You can find out more and apply online here. 

What is tax-free childcare?

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 is the child element of universal credit?

Low-income families with children will get more financial support to pay for the costs of having children through universal credit. 

How much more universal credit you get depends on your monthly income and the number of children you have. You will only get an extra amount for your first and second child (unless you were already claiming for three or more children before April 6, 2017 or your kids were born before this date). 

You will get an extra £290.00 every month if your first child was born before April 6, 2017. It is an extra £244.58 each month if your child was born after this date. For your second child (and any other eligible child after that), you can claim an extra £244.58 a month. 

You will also get an additional amount of £132.89 every month if your child is disabled, and an extra £414.88 if your child is severely disabled. 

How much childcare can you claim on universal credit?

People on universal credit can claim back up to 85 per cent 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 £646.35 for one child and £1,108.04 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 you get working tax credit or child tax credit to help pay for childcare costs?

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. 

But if you are eligible for child tax credit, you could claim up to £2,935 a year to help pay for the costs of having a child. For families with disabled children, it is up to £6,480 a year, and for severely disabled children, it’s £7,910. Find out more here. 

Through the childcare element of working tax credit, you may also be able to claim up to 70 per cent of your childcare costs. If you’re in a couple, you need to be working at least 16 hours each every week to qualify.

Can you get a childcare voucher to pay for costs?

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

But 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 ask for flexible working over the school holidays? 

If you cannot find any affordable childcare options, 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.

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