Financial help with childcare and costs

There are different kinds of help available towards childcare costs:

  • Child Tax Credit – This is available to anyone who cares for a child under 16 or a young person aged 16-19 in full-time education or training. This benefit is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit over the next few years. Call the HMRC tax credits helpline on 0345 300 3900 to apply.
  • Free school meals (England only) – These are available to anyone who already claims certain benefits such as Income Support. Contact your local authority for details of how to apply.
  • Grants for school clothing – These are given to families on a low income in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, they are given if the parent or carer is claiming certain benefits. If you’re in Northern Ireland, contact your local education and library board for details of how to apply. In the rest of the UK, contact your local authority.
  • Childcare vouchers from your employer – These are given by your employer and may continue while you are off work. Visit hmrc.gov.uk/childcare for more information.

Child Tax Credit (Means-tested)

Child Tax Credit is a means-tested benefit for parents and carers who look after children or young people still in education.

Important changes

Child Tax Credit is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit in England, Scotland and Wales. The benefit you should claim will depend on where you live and your situation. Speak to a welfare rights adviser to find out more.


Free school meals

There are different rules about free school meals across the UK:

In England, school meals are free for all children at state school in reception, year one and year two.

In Scotland, school meals are free for all children in primary school years one, two and three.

In Wales, all primary school children are entitled to a free school breakfast.

Across the UK, school meals are free for all children whose parents or carers receive certain benefits, including:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • the guarantee element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (in certain cases)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on (paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit).

How to apply

Contact your local council, or health and social care board in Northern Ireland, to find out whether your child qualifies and how to apply.


School clothing

In England, Scotland and Wales most local councils give grants for school clothing to families on a low income.

In Northern Ireland pupils are entitled to a school uniform grant if their parents or carers receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, the guarantee credit of Pension Credit or Child Tax Credit (in certain cases).

How to apply

In England, Scotland and Wales contact your local council to find out what help is available in your area and how to apply for it. In Northern Ireland contact your local education and library board.


School clothing in Northern Ireland

Pupils are entitled to a school uniform grant if their parents or carers receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, the guarantee credit of Pension Credit or Child Tax Credit (in certain cases).

How can I apply?

Contact your local education and library board.


Childcare vouchers and employer help

You may need to arrange childcare while you attend appointments, receive treatment or deal with any side effects you’re experiencing. There are different ways to get help with these costs.

If you work, your employer may allow you to pay for childcare using childcare vouchers. These let you pay for childcare through your salary, but before tax and national insurance have been deducted. This saves you money. Some employers may pay childcare costs directly or provide a workplace nursery.

If you’re off work temporarily and are getting sick pay, the vouchers or other help may continue, either as part of your contract or if you have a sympathetic employer. Talk to the HR department where you work about still getting help with childcare costs during periods of sick leave. For more information about childcare vouchers, visit hmrc.gov.uk/calcs/ccin.htm.

There may also be help you can get with looking after children, perhaps from:

  • family and friends 
  • social services (contact your local council, or in Northern Ireland, your health and social care board) 
  • charities such as Home-Start

Flexible working may also help, if this is possible for you.

Back to Childcare

Help getting childcare

You may find it hard to care for your children as you would like to. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help.