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Help with the costs of childcare

Families can access help with the costs of childcare in a variety of ways, through the tax credits system, vouchers provided by employers and tax free childcare accounts.

Families cannot receive Tax Free Childcare at the same time as Childcare Vouchers, Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit. You can use the government's Childcare Calculator (opens new window) to find out which option would be better for you, this will depend on your family circumstances.

All of the support is restricted to paying for childcare services that are registered.  In Scotland, registered childcare means:

  • a childcare provider registered by the Care Inspectorate.
  • childcare provided in the child's home by, or introduced through, a childcare agency, sitter service or nanny agency which is registered by the Care Inspectorate.

Details of registered childcare services are available on our Find my nearest childcare providers page.

Tax free childcare accounts

The government introduced tax free childcare accounts to allow more families to access support with childcare costs.  The accounts are for working families, including the self-employed, who have children under 12 (or under 17 if disabled). 

You can get up to £500 every 3 months (up to £2,000 a year) for each of your children to help with the costs of childcare. This goes up to £1,000 every 3 months if a child is disabled (up to £4,000 a year).   You can get Tax-Free Childcare at the same time as 1140 hours free childcare.

You can use it to pay for childcare including:

  • childminders, nurseries and nannies
  • playschemes, before and after school clubs, and holiday clubs

Check with your provider to see if they're signed up.  All PKC Kids Clubs and ELC accept Tax free childcare accounts.

How it works

You set up an online childcare account for your child. For every £8 you pay into this account, the government will pay in £2, up to a maximum of £2,000 a year or £4,000 if your child has a disability.  You can then use the money to pay your childcare provider.  You need to reconfirm your eligibility for Tax Free Childcare every three months.

You'll get a text reminder and it's easy to do through your online childcare account.

More information is available from the UK Government website (opens new window).


Tax Credits for childcare

Tax credits are closed to new applications for the majority of people from 1 February 2019.  If you are entitled to Working Tax Credit, and you and any partner are working at least 16 hours a week each, you can claim back up to 70% of your eligible childcare costs for children under 16 (or under 17 for disabled children). Depending on your income, you could get up to £122.50 a week for one child or £210 for two or more children. More information on Child Tax Credit is available on the UK Government website (opens new window).

Universal Credit for childcare

If you, and any partner, are working, or you're due to start work, and you're claiming Universal Credit, you can claim back up to 85% of your eligible childcare costs for children under 16. You could get up to £951 a month for one child, or £1,630 for two or more children.

Universal Credit (opens new window) is being phased in over the next few years. It will replace a number of existing benefits, including tax credits. Whether you can claim will depend on where you live and your personal circumstances.

Childcare vouchers

The following schemes are closed to new applicants:

  • childcare vouchers
  • childcare your employer arranges with a provider (known as 'directly contracted childcare')

If you joined one of these schemes on or before 4 October 2018 you might be able to keep getting vouchers or directly contracted childcare.  

If your employer offers childcare vouchers or arranges your childcare, you can get up to £933 a year in tax and National Insurance savings.

The amount you can get in childcare vouchers depends on how much you earn and when you joined the scheme. You pay for your childcare before tax and National Insurance deductions are made.

You cannot continue to claim childcare vouchers or directly contracted childcare if you successfully apply for Tax-Free Childcare. This calculator (opens new window) can help you decide whether you would be better off taking childcare vouchers.

Best Start Grant and Scottish Child Payment

Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods are payments that help towards the costs of being pregnant or looking after a child.

Best Start Grant is made up of 3 one-off payments:

  • Pregnancy and Baby Payment
  • Early Learning Payment
  • School Age Payment

Best Start Foods is a prepaid card that can be used in shops or online to buy healthy foods like milk or fruit.

The payments you can get now will depend on:

  • how far along in your pregnancy you are
  • how old your child is

Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods are 2 separate payments. You apply for both Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods using the same form. This is to make sure you can get all the payments you can without having to fill in more than one form. 

You can apply for Best Start Grant and Scottish Child Payment online at the Best Start Grant website (opens new window) or through the Freephone helpline - 0800 182 2222. The helpline is open Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm.

Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment

The Scottish Government has launched its new Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment. This is £707.25 for your first child and £353.65 for any little brothers and sisters, if you meet the eligibility criteria. And, if you are having a multiple birth, you will get an additional £353.65 on top of the money you get for each baby for the additional expense that comes with twins, triplets or quadruplets. Make sure you are eligible and know what to expect when you apply.

Best Start Foods

A payment card was introduced by the Scottish Government to help low-income families access healthy food.  You can apply for Best Start Foods when you're pregnant, or any time up to your child turning 3 years old. This goes up to 4 years old for a child:

  • who's over 2 years old when you apply
  • that you also get Healthy Start Vouchers for

The payments of Best Start Foods are:

  •  £19.80 every 4 weeks during pregnancy
  •  £39.60 every 4 weeks from your child being born up until they're a 1 year old
  •  £19.80 every 4 weeks between the ages of 1 and 3


Early Learning Payment

The Early Learning Payment is part of Best Start Grant, a package of three payments that will give extra money to low income families during the early years of a child's life. It is a £294.70 payment made between the ages of two and three and a half years old. This is to help with the costs of early learning for eligible families who have a child.

School Age Payment

You can apply for the School Age Payment in the year your child should be starting school.

Your child's date of birthWhen you can apply
Between 1 March 2018 and 28 February
Between 1 June 2023 and 29 February
Between 1 March 2019 and 29 February
Between 1 June 2024 and 28 February

The application dates for children born between 1 March 2017 and 28 February 2018 have now passed. You cannot apply for a child outside of these application dates.  You cannot apply for the School Age Payment for a child born before 1 March 2015.

If you receive the School Age Payment, you'll get £294.70 for each child you can receive the payment for.


Scottish Child Payment

Scottish Child Payment helps towards the costs of supporting your family.  It's a weekly payment of £25 that you can get for every child you look after who's under 6 years of age. You'll get the payment every 4 weeks if your application is successful.You cannot apply for a child outside of these application dates.

Parents and carers who have not yet applied and have a child under six are encouraged to apply today to get the maximum amount of money they are entitled to.

Scottish Child Payment is a new benefit and it is in addition to the UK wide Child Benefit.  Only one person can get Scottish Child Payment for a child. This means, if two people apply for the same child, Social Security Scotland have a process of deciding who gets the payment. This is called a double claim.

Further support and information can be found by contacting the Contact the Welfare Rights Team

Last modified on 01 May 2024

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