If you work, you could get extra tax credits to help with your childcare costs. You can claim as soon as you start paying for childcare, and only for the amounts that are actually paid by you.
What childcare qualifies?
You must use registered or approved childcare. This can include nurseries, childminders, foster carers, out of school hours clubs and nannies.
There are different registration and approval rules for each part of the UK. Check that your childcare provider meets these rules before you make your claim.
Who can qualify?
You’re a lone parent
You must work 16 hours or more a week to claim help with childcare costs.
You’re part of a couple
Generally you and your partner must both work 16 hours or more a week to claim help. Only one of you has to work 16 hours or more if the other is:
- ill or disabled and claiming disability benefits
- in hospital
- in prison – serving a custodial sentence or remanded in custody awaiting trial or sentence
- entitled to Carer’s Allowance – even if they don’t get any payments because they receive other benefits instead
You’re off work – can you still claim?
There are situations where you can still claim for help with childcare costs. These are explained below.
You’re on maternity, paternity or adoption leave
If you were working at least 16 hours a week immediately before you went on leave – and any of the following apply:
- you get maternity allowance
- you’re on ordinary maternity or adoption leave
- you’re in the first 13 weeks of additional maternity or adoption leave
- you’re on your two weeks of paternity leave
You’re off sick from work
If you were working at least 16 hours a week immediately before you went off sick – and both of the following apply:
- you’re off sick for 28 weeks or less
- you get one of certain state benefits – for example Employment and Support Allowance, Statutory Sick Pay or National Insurance Credits because you have limited capability for work (that is your illness or disability affects the amount and type of work you can do)
If you were off work for one of the following reasons before you went off sick, you can still claim help with childcare costs:
- you were on maternity, paternity or adoption leave
- you were on the first ten days of strike leave
- you were suspended from work
You must have been working at least 16 hours a week beforehand.
If you don’t return to work after 28 weeks you may not qualify any more. Contact the Tax Credit Helpline if this happens.
How much help you can get
You can get help with up to 80 per cent of your childcare costs – up to certain limits.
If you pay childcare for:
- one child, the maximum childcare cost you can claim is 175 a week
- two or more children, the maximum cost you can claim is 300 a week
This means that the maximum help you can get for your childcare is:
- 122.50 a week for one child
- 210 a week for two or more children
But you won’t necessarily get the full 122.50 or 210 a week – the actual amount you get will depend on your income. The lower your income, the more tax credits you can get.
What income limits apply?
There is no set income limit for help with childcare costs.
A couple with one child, paying 175 a week for childcare, will still get some tax credits with an annual income as high as 41,000. But this is only a very general guide.
It’s important to know that:
- different income limits apply depending on your circumstances – for example if you have a large family the income limit could be higher
- you need to make a claim to get a definite answer to how much you are entitled to
You can use ‘at a glance’ entitlement tables to get a rough idea of the help you could get. These tables show yearly amounts of tax credits based on different amounts of income – but they dont cover every situation.
If you want a better idea of how much you could get, there’s also an online tax credits calculator you can use.
Childcare costs you can’t claim for through tax credits
You can’t claim for:
- payment from your employer towards your childcare costs, either in cash or vouchers – this includes vouchers in return for a reduction in your pay (known as a ‘salary sacrifice’)
- free early learning or nursery education – for example the 15 hours a week free early years education for three and four year olds in England
- payments from the government towards your childcare costs because you are a student, or you are starting work
You can still claim for any childcare costs that you actually pay for yourself. For example, if your employer pays part of your childcare costs in vouchers, you can make a claim for the rest.
If your employer offers you childcare vouchers
There is an online calculator to help you decide whether youre better off taking the vouchers or not.
How to claim
When to claim
You can make your claim:
- if you’ve already started to use childcare
- up to seven days before you start using childcare- no earlier
If you pay for short fixed periods of childcare
This could be during the summer holidays, or to cover an emergency. To find out how to claim for short periods of childcare, see ‘Tax credits for short periods of childcare’.
How to claim – if you’re new to tax credits
You need to get a claim form from the Tax Credit Helpline.
Fill in the claim form, including details of your average weekly childcare costs, and return it to the Tax Credit Office.
How to claim – if you’re already getting tax credits
If your circumstances change and you want to claim for help with childcare costs, call the Tax Credit Helpline.