If you are the full-time carer for a child, you may be looking for regular childcare to enable you to work, or you may want a break from caring from time to time. Many carers use a combination of formal and informal childcare, as it will be cheaper and more flexible.

You can find a comparison of the costs of different forms of childcare here.


Formal care


What childcare is available for 0 to 5 year olds?

All three and four year olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free early education and childcare for 38 weeks of the year. This applies until they reach school age. Free early education places are available at a range of settings including nursery schools and classes, children’s centres, day nurseries, play groups and pre-schools and with registered childminders.

Some 2 year olds also qualify for free early education. This applies if you are in receipt of certain benefits or the child is ‘looked after’ by the local authority or has left care under a Special Guardianship Order, Residence Order or Child Arrangements Order. Further information on eligibility criteria can be found here.

From September 2017 working parents and carers of three and four year olds will be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks of the year. The Government is currently rolling out a pilot scheme in some areas. You can find more information about this new scheme here.

Good quality early years education is proven to support children’s development.

For more information about free nursery education in your area, contact your local council or click here to find contact details for your local Family Information Service (FIS).

Click here for information about free nursery education and childcare in the rest of the UK.

Childminder: Childminders provide childcare in their own home. They offer a family environment. Many childminders also offer school pick ups. Childminders need to be registered with Ofsted. This guarantees they have undertaken training and meet certain standards, such as looking after a limited number of children and providing adequate facilities. They will also be inspected regularly to make sure they comply with those standards.

You can find a childminder through your local Family Information Service (FIS).
Click here for contact details.

Nursery: Nurseries cater for babies and children under school age. There is often a waiting list. Find details of your local nurseries here.

Pre-school/ Nursery classes in primary schools: Some nurseries are attached to primary schools and provide free spaces for children aged three to four.  For more information contact your local council or click here to find details for your local Family Information Service (FIS) .

Nanny: A nanny will offer you lots of flexibility and can be a great arrangement if you have irregular hours (for example if you work in the evenings).  However, nannies are usually the most expensive form of childcare. If you take on a nanny you may be legally classed as their employer. Find more information about your responsibilities here.  Many nannies are not registered with Ofsted. Registered nannies are usually more expensive, but must have undertaken certain training and have  liability insurance. Childcare vouchers can be used to pay a nanny who is registered with Ofsted.

For information on how to find a nanny, click here.

What childcare is available for school age children?

There is a range of formal and informal childcare for children aged 5 to 16, although it will be more difficult to find formal childcare for older children.

Childminder:Usually childminders look after children aged under 12 in the childminder’s home, and will often pick up children from school.

For more information on childminders click here.

School: schools may offer an extended range of services for pupils and their families. This could include before and after school childcare and activities like breakfast, homework and sports clubs.

Breakfast club: these provide a healthy meal and a safe place for children to wait until school starts. Breakfast clubs may or may not be registered with Ofsted (i.e. complying with certain standards), so check.

For more information on before and after school childcare, contact the school directly or click here.

Holiday play scheme/club: These clubs may be offered by the school, your local authority, a sports centre or a private company. They offer a wide range of play activities during the school holidays. Costs of holiday playschemes vary widely.

Find a holiday play scheme near you here.

Nanny: Usually nannies will provide care for children in your home, and can look after children of any age. Nannies can live with you or have their own accommodation. Their hours are usually flexible but they are likely to be more expensive than other forms of childcare. Many nannies are not registered with Ofsted, so make sure you check their references and feel comfortable with their level of experience before employing them.


Informal care


Many people are reliant on family members providing afterschool and holiday care. Half of households use family and friends for childcare and more than a third use grandparents.

Family or friend: Maybe someone in the family or a trusted friend can help you on a regular or occasional basis. Remember, it is illegal to pay anyone who is not registered with Ofsted to look after a child aged under eight outside the child’s own home for more than two hours per day unless they are related to the child.

Playing with a friend: Maybe you know and trust parents or carers with a child the same age as yours. If the children get on well, why not have their child round to play for a couple of hours and swap the next time?

Neighbour: It can be helpful to establish a good relationship with your neighbour, for example to keep an eye on older teenagers if you are away.

Crèche: Some gyms, swimming pools and shopping centres have crèches, enabling you to engage in an activity nearby knowng that your child is safe and supervised.They comply with different childcare standards so make sure you are happy with those before putting your child there.


Childcare for children with disabilities


Choosing the right childcare for a disabled child can be particularly challenging. The gov.uk website is a good first source of information.

Childcare providers must not treat disabled children less favourably than other children, and are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to the way they provide a service, to ensure all children can access activities and facilities.

The Family and Childcare Trust  has further information on choosing the right childcare and guidance on what support your local authority should offer you.


Is there any help available to pay for childcare?


Early years education subsidy: Every three- and four-year-old  is entitled to 15 hours free a week. This also applies to some two year olds (see above).

Tax credits: If you’re on a low income and work at least 16 hours a week you may be able to get tax credits to help with the costs of childcare, but you must use a registered childcare provider to qualify. Find more information here. Check out our information on tax credits.

Universal Credit: A new benefit called Universal Credit is gradually being introduced across the country and will eventually replace a number of existing benefits including tax credits. Universal Credit can include an amount to help with childcare costs. This will depend on your income – it doesn’t matter how many hours you work. Find more information here.

Childcare vouchers: Many employers offer help to their employees through the childcare voucher scheme, though you can only take part if you have parental responsibility for a child. It usually works through a salary sacrifice scheme. This means that you give up part of your salary and receive childcare vouchers to the same value but pay no tax or national insurance on the vouchers. Childcare vouchers can only be used with registered childcare providers.

Using childcare vouchers can save you up to £933 a per year, depending on your circumstances.  Both parents can use childcare vouchers so in some cases you can get  double the savings. However, your entitlement to childcare tax credits or Universal Credit might be affected if you use childcare vouchers so some people might find themselves worse off if they use vouchers. Find more information about what would be best for you here.

If your employer does not offer childcare vouchers, you can ask them to do so. Providing childcare vouchers shouldn’t cost your employer any money. In fact, as they do not pay national insurance on the vouchers, it is beneficial to them.

From April 2018 no new entrants will be able to join the childcare vouchers scheme, as it is being replaced by tax-free childcare (see below).

Tax-free childcare:  This new scheme is currently being rolled out. For each £8 a parent pays into a special account, the government will add £2 up to a maximum of £2000 a year per child (£4000 for a disabled child).

Note that you cannot use the tax-free childcare scheme if you are receiving tax credits or Universal Credit.

You can find more information here about tax-free childcare and to check whether childcare vouchers or tax-free childcare is better for you.

The Government’s Childcare Choices website has information about the various sources of help with childcare costs and can help you work out what is best for you. You can also get advice from the Working Families helpline.


What should I look out for when choosing childcare?


When choosing childcare, make sure:

  • You have the gut feeling it is the right environment or person for the child
  • You’ve done some research (visited a few different providers, read ofsted reports, asked friends for recommendations)
  • You are confident the carers have the right skills (first aid, preparing food, etc.)
  • You are able to afford the childcare (make sure you know about any extras you have to pay for, like breakfast or baby gym!)
  • You know what happens in case things go wrong (you are late for pick up, your child is sick)
  • You have a clear contract in place setting out exactly what will be provided or not (will they provide meals? Nappies?)
  • It’s convenient for you (is it on your way to work, are the drop off and pick up times OK?)
  • You are able to visit a few times before making your decision and do a few test hours/days to see if your child is happy
  • You are confident the person or setting complies with certain quality standards, and is registered with Ofsted.

Mumsnet has some useful tips on choosing a nursery  and choosing a childminder.