Financial help with childcare and costs

If you are a parent or carer, you may be able to get financial support:

  • Child Tax Credit is a benefit that helps with childcare costs. Call the HMRC tax credits helpline on 0345 300 3900 to apply.
  • Working Tax Credit or childcare vouchers may also help cover childcare costs.
  • Many councils offer help with school clothing, meals and transport.

If you are a young person aged 16 to 19, you may be able to get help with your education costs:

  • Educational Maintenance Allowance helps young people aged 16–19 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stay in education.
  • In England, the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is for young people who may struggle paying for full-time education. They can receive a bursary of up to £1,200 a year.
  • Some colleges have grants and funds through the Discretionary Learner Support scheme to help people over 19 with learning costs. This may help pay for accommodation, travel or childcare.

Contact your college or local authority to find out what options are available to you.

Child Tax Credit

Child Tax Credit is a benefit to help with the cost of looking after children.

Tax Credits are gradually being replaced by Universal Credit. The benefit you should claim will depend on where you live and your situation. Speak to a welfare rights adviser to find out more.

Who can claim

You can claim if you are aged 16 or over. You, and your partner if you have one, must earn below a certain amount. It does not matter whether you are working or not.

You must be responsible for:

  • a child aged under 16
  • a young person aged 16 to 19 who normally lives with you and who is not at university.

If you are living in an area where Universal Credit has been introduced, you can claim that instead.

What you will get

Child Tax Credit is made up of several amounts of money (called elements). These include a family element and a child element for each child in the family. There are extra elements for children with disabilities. After April 2017, the child element will be restricted to two children only.

How to claim

Call the HMRC tax credits helpline on 0345 300 3900 or textphone 0345 300 3909.


Childcare costs

You may get help with the cost of government-approved childcare through Working Tax Credit. Depending on how much you earn, the maximum you can get is £122.50 a week for one child, or £210 a week for two or more children. You can find out more at gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs.

If you get Housing Benefit, some of your childcare costs can be taken into account when assessing how much rent you will have to pay.

Childcare vouchers and employer help

You may need to arrange childcare while you go to appointments, have treatment or deal with any side effects you are having. 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 are 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 at your work about getting help with childcare costs during periods of sick leave. For more information about childcare vouchers, visit gov.uk/childcare-costs-for-tax-credits.

There may also be help you can get with looking after children. This could be from:

  • social services (contact your local council)
  • charities such as Home-Start (visit home-start.org.uk)
  • family and friends.

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


School and education costs

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.

In Northern Ireland, contact the Education Authority in your region to find out whether your child qualifies and how to apply.

In England, Scotland and Wales, school meals are free for all children whose parents or carers receive certain benefits. These include:

  • Universal Credit (if you meet certain criteria)
  • Income Support
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or 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).

Contact your local council to find out whether your child qualifies and how to apply.

School clothing

Many 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, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the guarantee credit of Pension Credit or Child Tax Credit (in certain cases).

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 the Education Authority for your region.

School travel costs

Your local council, Education Authority in Northern Ireland, school or college may also be able to help with the travel costs to school or college. Contact them for more details.

Educational Maintenance Allowance

Educational Maintenance Allowance is available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This allowance helps young people aged 16 to 19 stay in education. The amount paid is based on the income of the adults who are responsible for the young person. It won’t affect any benefits the adult is claiming.

In Scotland, contact your school, college or local council. Visit emascotland.com for more information.

In Wales, call 0300 200 4050 or visit studentfinancewales.co.uk to download an application form.

In Northern Ireland, visit nidirect.gov.uk

16 to 19 bursary fund

The 16 to 19 bursary fund is only available to students in England.

Students aged 16 to 19 who might struggle with the cost of full-time education or training may be eligible for a bursary of up to £1,200 a year. It can be used for costs like equipment, lunch and transport. It is not available to people at university.

Speak to the school, college, academy or training provider about how to apply for a bursary.

Discretionary Learner Support

Some colleges, including sixth form colleges, have loans, grants or funds to help people aged 19 or over with learning costs.

In some cases, this will come from the Discretionary Learner Support scheme. The funds are prioritised for those facing financial hardship. They can be used to help with:

  • financial hardship and emergencies
  • childcare costs (if you qualify)
  • accommodation costs, for those who have to study a certain distance from home
  • essential course-related equipment, materials and field trips
  • travel costs.

Check with your college to see whether this option is available to you.

Back to Help with children's costs

Tom's Gift

Tom’s Gift gives children who need treatment for cancer a special present in recognition of their bravery and resilience.