Financial help with childcare and costs

If you have a child in education there may be financial support available to you:

  • Child Tax Credit is a payment given to parents and carers of children or young people in full-time education. It is an income-related (means-tested) benefit. In England, Scotland and Wales, Child Tax Credit is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit. Call the HMRC Tax Credits Helpline on 0345 300 3900 or textphone 0345 300 3909 to apply.

If you are a young person aged 16–19 you may be able to find help with your studies:

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

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

You may also be able to get financial help with school clothing and meals.

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.

Who can claim

You or your partner must:

  • be aged 16 or above
  • have income below a certain level
  • be responsible for a child or young person who normally lives with you
  • be living in an area where Child Tax Credit has not yet been replaced by Universal Credit – if Universal Credit is available in your area, you should apply for that instead.

A child is someone under 16. A young person is someone aged 16–19 who is in full-time non-advanced education (not a university degree) or doing certain training.

You can claim Child Tax Credit whether you are working or not.

What you'll get

Child Tax Credit is made up of several elements (amounts of money). These include a family element and a child element for each child in the family. There are extra amounts for children with disabilities.

Changes to Child Tax Credit

Child Tax Credit is being replaced by Universal Credit. If you’re already getting Child Tax Credit, you’ll continue to do so until either:

  • your circumstances change 
  • the DWP decides to transfer your claim to Universal Credit. 

Contact a welfare rights adviser for more information.

Once Child Tax Credit has been replaced by Universal Credit everywhere, Pension Credit will change to include help with the costs of looking after children.

How to claim

Call HMRC tax credits helpline on 0345 300 3900 or 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 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.

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

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.

Educational Maintenance Allowance (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland only)

16–19 bursary fund (England only)

Students aged 16–19 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.

School travel costs

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

How to apply

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

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