Help with Childcare For Ukrainians
For Ukrainian refugees with children, finding appropriate and affordable childcare is key to be able to work enough hours to manage independently in the UK. Here, we give some options that may be useful to know about. These are available to everyone, not just Ukrainians.
Note that in the UK it is quite normal practice to put young children into childcare in order to enable parents to work enough hours to support themselves. Some childcare providers will take children as young as 3 months, although it’s probably more usual to start from 6 months to 1 year. It is also quite normal to use a combination of options, especially if you are on the waiting list for your preferred option, and you should be prepared to do this.
There are also Government inspection bodies such as Ofsted in England, which are responsible for maintaining standards and inspecting childcare and education settings, such as childminders, nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools. You can search for childcare options through such organisations to find registered providers, and you can also see the latest inspection reports which describe the inspectors’ findings.
Local parents may also recommend options they have used.
Content here is mainly reflective of the situation in England, but similar help is available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Help with childcare costs
There are a number of options around help with childcare costs available for parents. We recommend you look at Childcare Choices | 30 Hours Free Childcare, Tax-Free Childcare and More | Help with Costs | GOV.UK and Get childcare: step by step – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) for more details of what you are entitled to, depending on your circumstances.
‘Tax credits’ are now closed to new applicants, but the other options are available to you.
Free childcare hours for pre-school age children
For children aged 2 to 4, you would typically get a certain number of hours of free childcare per week, which can be used with any registered provider (such as a private nursery or childminder) that is flexible enough to accept them.
Even if you are not eligible for Universal Credit, or are not working, you are still entitled to some free hours.
The free hours are usually calculated as a number of hours per week, available for a total of 38 weeks. You are able to take the available hours with any combination of childcare provider that accepts them, and some providers will let you stretch the available hours over 52 weeks. The free hours effectively translate to a ‘discount’ on your full day’s childcare bill (i.e. if the price for a full 9 hour nursery day is £60, then with 3 free hours per day, your bill would be reduced to £40 instead.)
- All families receive 15 hours free per week for children aged 3 and 4
- You can receive an extra 15 hours per week for children aged 3 and 4, if you or your partner each earn over £167 a week
- For those meeting the eligibility criteria, you can receive 15 hours per week for children aged 2
Help from Universal Credit
Note that if you were eligible for Universal Credit before you started working, you can potentially get help with your childcare costs once you start working. If your claim was initially closed because you were earning enough, then once you start incurring childcare costs, you may become eligible again to receive help from Universal Credit, and you can reapply for a new claim. Check this by using a benefits calculator or by speaking to Citizens Advice; see UK Benefits System for more details.
You can receive up to 85% of childcare costs from Universal Credit (subject to an overall limit). You must use registered or approved childcare providers, and the childcare must enable you to work during the time it is used (i.e. cannot be used just so you can do the shopping). You cannot use unregistered friends or relatives if you want to get help with childcare costs.
From 28th June 2023, the Government is significantly improving the help you can get from Universal Credit, as follows:
- For one child, the maximum amount you can receive is increased to £951 a month (previously, it was £646)
- For two or more children, the maximum amount you can receive is increased to £1630 a month (previously, it was £1108)
- Usually, you have to pay for all the costs in advance and then claim them back from Universal Credit, which could be a problem if you don’t have the money needed. Speak to your Work Coach about getting help upfront to pay your childcare costs through the Flexible Support Fund.
Help with childcare costs through Universal Credit is available for children aged 16 and under, and can be used for registered holiday camps for example.
You may still be entitled to some free childcare hours as described above, which will reduce your childcare bill, before any help from Universal Credit is applied.
In order to claim childcare costs, these would need to be added to your UC journal, and you will need to upload proof of costs. Report your childcare costs as soon as you can, as costs over 2 months old may not get paid. You will need to upload a receipt or invoice from the childcare provider as described here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/universal-credit-childcare-costs#how-to-report-your-childcare-costs. From 28th June, there will be the possibility to claim childcare costs in advance in some cases; speak to your Work Coach.
If you are not eligible to receive help from Universal Credit, but you are working or self-employed, and earning over £167 a week, you may be eligible for help from the Government known as ‘tax-free childcare’.
For every £8 you contribute to a special childcare account, the Government puts in £2. You can receive up to £2000 a year from the Government, if you put in the maximum allowed amount of £8000. The amount is £4000 a year for a disabled child. You can then use this money to pay for childcare. See https://www.childcarechoices.gov.uk/how-to-use-tax-free-childcare/ for more details.
Help with childcare costs is available for children aged 11 and under (or 16 and under if the child is disabled).
You may still be entitled to some free childcare hours as described above, which will reduce your childcare bill.
Registered or approved childcare providers
You must use registered or approved childcare providers in order to get help from Universal Credit towards costs. See https://www.gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs or https://www.entitledto.co.uk/help/Registered-or-approved-childcare-Universal-Credit for a definition of what ‘registered’ or ‘approved’ means in different regions of the UK.
For example, in England, your childcare provider must be registered with the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). Furthermore, if you use childcare provided by a school it must be:
- provided by or under the direction of the person responsible for managing the school, or a local authority
- on school premises that may be inspected as part of a school inspection
- out of school hours
For registered providers, the body that the childcare provider is registered with will expect certain standards and paperwork to be maintained, and will conduct regular inspections to assess and rate the childcare provider. However, other parents’ own recommendations can also be useful alongside the official inspection rating.
For working parents with children who are not old enough for primary school yet, a childcare option is to use nurseries or kindergartens.
There are nurseries provided by primary schools, which are free, but they typically only start from age 3, finish at 3 pm and only operate during school term time, or there are private nurseries which will finish around 6 pm, and which will also be open during school holidays. Private nurseries are a better option for parents who need to work full-time.
If you have a place at a private nursery, you can use your entitlement to 15 hours free childcare (in some cases, 30 hours) to reduce the number of hours you need to pay for, and pay for the rest, afterwards claiming back up to 85% from Universal Credit if you are eligible. This would be a good solution if you need full-time childcare. Speak to the nursery about this.
To apply for a nursery school place with a local primary school, go to: https://www.gov.uk/find-nursery-school-place. You will be directed to your local council to apply (remember that your nearest primary school may be in a neighbouring council, which you can also apply for).
To search for private day care nurseries in England for example, go to: https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/. You can enter your location or postcode, then select ‘Childcare and early education’, then select ‘Pre-school / day nursery / out of school care’ to bring up private nurseries near you.
In England, some local councils can offer full-time day care for pre-school at places called Sure Start children’s centres. This is likely to be quite cheap compared to private nurseries and so will be very popular. For an example, see https://surestartchildrenscentresnhp.org.uk/. There may be equivalent council operated centres for Wales, Scotland and Nortern Ireland.
Breakfast and after school clubs
For working parents with school age children, primary schools offer breakfast clubs, where you can drop your child off at around 8 am on your way to work, as well as after school clubs, where your child can remain at school until around 6 pm. Your child will usually be given something to eat during the club. Such clubs will cost around £20 to £30 typically and allow you to have a full day of work. Again, a percentage of the costs could be reclaimed if you were eligible for Universal Credit before you started working.
Places will be limited, so get onto the waiting list as soon as possible.
Note that schools also offer activity based clubs (which are also confusingly called ‘after school clubs’ if they are held after school hours). These are typically around an hour long, so will finish around 4 to 4.30 pm; you usually sign up for these every term or half term, for a small fee. For example, there may be a gymnastics after school club that runs every Tuesday for Years 3 and 4, costing £5 a session. This isn’t the same as the longer after school club which allows your child to be looked after till 6 pm, and which you may also need.
You can also enter your postcode to be directed to your local council for some offerings outside of your primary school itself: Find before and after school and holiday clubs – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
If you cannot get into a breakfast or after school club, local childminders may be able to drop your child off to school and collect them from school. You drop your child at the childminder’s house in the morning around 8 am, and pick them up around 6 pm. The childminder looks after a small number of children of different ages at their own residence and will usually give them something to eat as well. Costs are typically again around £20 to £30, and a percentage of the costs could be reclaimed if you were eligible for Universal Credit before you started working.
Childminders can also take babies and children that are too young for primary school, as an alternative to nurseries. They are usually cheaper than private nurseries. Children are looked after in a relaxed environment and may be taken on outings and trips when the weather is nice. A lot of parents will use a combination of childminder and nursery for their pre-school age children. A percentage of the costs could be reclaimed if you were eligible for Universal Credit before you started working.
Only use childminders that are registered with the appropriate authorities, such as Ofsted in England. Local parents will be able to suggest childminders they have used and recommend.
You can find a list of childminders here: Find a registered childminder – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) – enter your postcode and this will redirect you to your local council list of providers.
In England, you can also search through Ofsted, go to: https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/. You can enter your location or postcode, then select ‘Childcare and early education’, then select ‘Childminder’ to bring up registered childminders near you. There will be equivalent organisations and ways to search for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Remember that if you live near the edge of a council area, your nearest childminder might be in the neighbouring council. You can choose a childminder from any council.
During school holidays (half term, summer, Christmas and Easter), it is possible to find private businesses that run holiday clubs or camps for school age children. These could be offering activities such as sports, arts and crafts or even outings. Most children will have a great time at holiday camps, even if to begin with, they don’t know anyone. There are also children’s centres run by local councils.
Most councils have a number of leisure centres which are run by different organisations to provide sport and fitness activities. Your local leisure centre should offer some cheap activities for children during holidays. They will get booked up quickly so it is important to plan ahead for the holidays.
See Children’s Activities for details of some organisations offering holiday clubs.
You can also enter your postcode to be directed to your local council for some offerings: Find before and after school and holiday clubs – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Again, a percentage of the costs could be reclaimed if you were eligible for Universal Credit before you started working.
Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programmes
Holiday Activities and Food programmes are run by local councils during Christmas, Easter and summer holidays; this enables them to fund healthy activities for children who are on low incomes and eligible for free school meals. Such children will be allocated a HAF number, which they can provide to the organisers of the activities, and they do not have to then pay for them. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/holiday-activities-and-food-programme/holiday-activities-and-food-programme-2021 for more information.
The good thing is that the activities are available and funded even if the parent is not working during those hours (unlike Universal Credit). Many councils have extended this programme to all Ukrainian refugees, so check with your local council if your child can have a HAF number and is eligible for this funding. If they are, you can find providers that will accept HAF numbers.
However, do not rely on this programme for full-time childcare during the holidays. Under the HAF programme, the activity provider only receives funding from the council for a certain number of hours per day (4 to 6 hours per day typically), and only for a maximum of a certain number of days overall. Moreover, the scheme does not operate at half-term. So you still need to find and pay for childcare for the rest of the time if you want to work full-time. If you need a full day’s childcare, and if the childcare provider you are interested in offers full day programmes, you could sign up for the whole day and you should be able to still use Universal Credit to claim up to 85% of any childcare you still have to pay for, after the HAF funding has been used. Otherwise, you might be better off finding a non-HAF funded activity provider who offers a full day programme, and just claiming help with costs from Universal Credit alone.
Waiting lists for childcare
Because childcare is so vital to enabling people to work full-time, it is very popular. As a result, you need to put your name down on the providers’ waiting lists as soon as you know you might need childcare. Don’t wait till the holidays are upon you before planning for childcare, especially for the long 6 week school summer holiday. All the convenient local places might be booked up if you leave it too late.
Childminders may have immediate availability but you may have to ring or email several to find one (as an example, we rang 20 childminders before we found one with a space for a school drop off and pick up).
At the start of the school year (September), and generally at the start of a school term, there is a lot of movement as children start school, leave school or change schools, freeing up nursery and childminder spaces, but you need to get on the waiting lists beforehand as soon as possible, as it’s first come, first served.
Summary of childcare options
The following table provides a summary of the main help available with childcare costs, and the main relevant childcare options, by approximate age banding.
* indicates eligibility criteria apply.
|Age < 2||Age 2||Age 3 and 4||Primary school age||Age 12 to 16|
|Free hours||Not available||15 hours*||15 hours|
Extra 15 hours*
|Help with costs||Universal Credit*|
|Universal Credit* |
Tax-free childcare (disabled child)*
|Childcare options||– Childminder|
– Private nursery
– Local council children’s centre
– Private nursery
– Local council children’s centre
– Private nursery
– School nursery
– Local council children’s centre
|– School breakfast club / after school club|
– Other breakfast club / after school club provider
– Childminder drop off and pick up from school
|Not usually required if children can go to secondary school by themselves|
|Childcare options (holidays)||Not applicable (note that some childminders may take holidays)||Not applicable (note that some childminders may take holidays)||Not applicable (note that some childminders may take holidays and school nurseries will be closed)||– Holiday camps|
– HAF programmes* (limited availability)
|– Holiday camps|
– HAF programmes* (limited availability)
It’s less common to use holiday camps at this age
Leaving your child alone at home
This is a complicated topic, as each child varies in their level of maturity. See https://www.gov.uk/law-on-leaving-your-child-home-alone. There is no legal age from which children are allowed to be left home alone; however, parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health‘.
We recommend reading the following useful guide published by the charity NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), which could help answer any questions you may have on this topic: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/in-the-home/home-alone/. In particular,
- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 should not be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
- if you leave your children with someone who’s under 16 you’re still responsible for their wellbeing