If you read my recent blog post outlining the key features of the government’s new tax-free childcare scheme then you may be interested in getting on board! The scheme is now live and registration is open to parents of children aged three and under, with plans to roll it out to all eligible age groups in the course of 2017-18.
Step 1: Check if you fall within the eligibility criteria
The key eligibility criteria for the tax-free childcare scheme are:
- You have a child aged under 12 (or under 17 if they are disabled)*
- You are employed or self employed
- You earn less than £100,00 per year but more than £120 per week
- You are not receiving other support with childcare costs, including the employer-supported childcare voucher scheme.
*At the moment your child needs to be under four years of age on 31st August 2017, but this will change as the scheme rolls out to all age groups. A detailed list of eligibility criteria is available for the scheme.
There is one interesting exception to the earnings criteria. If you are a new business in your ‘start-up period’, defined as the first year of operating, then you do not have to meet the lower earnings criteria of £120 per week. This could be helpful to parents making a transition to self-employment, but who also need to pay for childcare in order to work.
So is the scheme for you? If yes, then the next step is to check if your early years provider is registered and then begin the process. If you don’t fall within the eligibility criteria, consider whether other options such as the employer-supported childcare vouchers scheme, the childcare element of working tax credits or childcare support available to students might be open to you. There is also a Childcare Calculator that might be helpful in working out the best option for your family.
Step 2: Check if your early years provider has registered for the scheme
It is worth pausing now to check if your early years provider has registered for the tax-free childcare scheme, as otherwise you might spend time going through the registration process yourself but be unable to make them any payments. All early years and childcare providers have been invited to register, but as with all new initiatives it can take time for everyone to be up and running. The application process asks you to check if your provider is registered, but the link to do so is not easy to find. Click here to enter your provider details and find out if they have registered for the scheme. If they haven’t yet registered then it might be worth getting in touch and encouraging them to sign up.
Step 3: Navigate to the start of the application process
As usual, when going through a web-based process, it is quite useful to have a number of tabs open on your browser and either paste links into a new tab or use the ‘open in new tab’ option, available on the right click on Windows PCs. The main site we will be using is the new government Childcare Choices website at www.childcarechoices.gov.uk.
Either scroll down the home page or click the turquoise arrow that will take you to the various options for different age groups. As this scheme applies to children under the age of twelve (or under seventeen if they have a disability), you have to scroll a little way down the page to reach the buttons we need.
There they are! The registration process now takes you off the shiny new Childcare Choices site and on to the rather plain, but very useful, Gov.uk site. Here you need to choose menu option 4, Access the childcare service as a parent, as per the screenshot below:
Click that link and it will take you to the following page, which is the beginning of the application process:
Step 3: Begin initial eligibility screening
You will now be asked if you have been invited to register for the scheme, presumably because the government has been sending postal or email initiations to specific groups. Click ‘No’ if that is not the case. You now need to enter the date of birth of your youngest child.
If your child will be under 4 years old by 31st August, you are now taken to the Government Gateway login to begin the registration process. Registering with the Government Gateway enables you to sign up for any of the UK government’s services that are available over the internet. If you already complete a tax return, manage your driving licence online or use the statutory Child Maintenance Service, then this service will be familiar to you. Now is the time to gather some of the information that may be helpful in the process.
Step 5: Register or login to the Government Gateway to access the scheme
You can now either login or set up a new account on the Government Gateway to enter your personal details and confirm your eligibility for the scheme. Remember that if you are not currently eligible for the tax-free childcare scheme you can register to receive email updates once it does become available to you. The government are rolling it out to different age groups in the course of 2017-18.
Thanks for reading and good luck with the registration process! If you have anything to add about the process of registering for the scheme, leave a comment below.
Please note that this blog is only a guide and some parents may be better off remaining with other schemes to support parents with the cost of childcare. You should always seek advice tailored to your own circumstances before making decisions that may have financial implications.
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