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

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. See gov.uk for more details. Or 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 is in full-time education or training – this does not include advanced education, such as university, or training that is paid for by an employer.

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

What you could get

The amount you get from Child Tax Credit will depend on your situation. It could include the following:

  • A payment for each child of up to £2,780 a year. This is called the child element. You can only claim for up to two children. There are exceptions to this which you can read about at gov.uk/guidance/child-tax-credit-exceptions-to-the-2-child-limit
  • An extra payment for each disabled child of up to £3,275 a year.
  • An extra payment for each severely disabled child of up to £1,290 a year.

How to claim

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


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 can have 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 get certain benefits. These include:

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


School clothing

Many local councils give grants for school clothing, including PE kit, to families on a low income.

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

In England, Scotland or 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.


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 costs

You may get help with the cost of government-approved childcare through Working Tax Credit. How much you get depends 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.

If you get Universal Credit you may also be able to get help with childcare costs. You usually need to have a job or a job offer. If you live with a partner, they will need to have a job or job offer, too

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.