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How to find the childcare that's right for you

There are lots of options for childcare out there, so it's helpful to know what's what. Here are some of the most popular types of childcare, and some of the things you should be considering when looking for the right fit for you and your child.

Nursery. Children can go to a nursery full or part time from birth until they start school or turn five. At a nursery your child will have the opportunity to interact with other children, helping them develop social skills. 

Registered childminder. Childminders can take care of up to six children under the age of eight in their own home. They have to be registered (see below). A childminder provides tailored care and can often be flexible about when you pick up or drop off your child. 

Nanny. A nanny will look after your child or children in your own home and can live in or out. Their hours vary, so having a nanny can be a flexible option. If you choose to hire one you’re considered their employer so you’ll need to arrange to pay tax and National Insurance.

Au pair. An au pair is a young person on a cultural exchange programme. They look after your children and help around the house in return for food, accommodation and a small allowance. They’re an unqualified child carer so, for example, they’re not allowed to have sole responsibility for very young children.

Informal childcare. This could include sharing childcare with a friend or getting grandparents to help out. If your child's grandparents take care of your child and are of working age, they should look into applying for working tax credits and National Insurance credits. Whether you decide to share with a friend or get help from grandparents, it’s just as important to be clear on things like hours of care, food and safety as you would if your child was going to a childminder or nursery. 

If you're in work, find out if you have an employee assistance programme (EAP) that can help you find the type of childcare that works best for you and your child. 

TIP: Find out if you have an employee assistance programme (EAP) that can help you find the childcare arrangement that works best for you.

When looking for the right fit, think about...

Money. Does it fit your budget? This will make or break whether it works for you, so don't leave it till last.

Registration. Is the childminder or nursery registered? You can find registered childcare providers through Ofsted (England), the Care Inspectorate (Scotland), Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (Wales), and Family Support NI (Northern Ireland). 

The right fit? Visit the childcare provider and chat to the people looking after your child. Make sure you’re comfortable and they feel like a good fit for you and your child.

What the fees cover. What’s included in the fees? Do they include things like meals, nappies and milk, or will you have to supply this? Are there any additional costs, for example for trips out? 

Opening schedule. Are they open all year or just over school term times? You’ll need to consider this to make alternate childcare arrangements during holiday times, which may cost extra.

Opening times. Do the care times suit you? Do they fit around your work hours and is the location suitable for you to get to or from work in time?

Group size. Are you happy with the group size or with how many children are being cared for? For example, the staff-to-child ratio in a nursery is three children to one carer.

Flexibility. Do you need a lot of flexibility? Do your working hours, location or other commitments mean you may need to change your plans?

TIP: Check if you or your partner is eligible for childcare vouchers or working tax credit to help you cover the cost of childcare.

Financial support

Childcare can be expensive. You’ll need to weigh this up against your earnings to see what’s affordable. Look into whether you’re entitled to financial help, as this may allow you to widen your options. 

Direct Payments. This is where your employer pays a set amount (dependent on your tax bracket) directly to your childcare provider. You won’t have to pay tax for national insurance up to a certain amount.

Childcare Vouchers. You and your partner may be entitled to Childcare Vouchers. A portion of your salary gets paid directly to the childcare provider, giving you a tax saving. Your chosen childcare provider will need to be registered to accept childcare vouchers.

Tax Credits. If you work for at least 16 hours a week and pay for registered childcare you can apply for Working Tax Credit. There’s a childcare element to this, which, if you’re eligible, can cover up to 70% of your childcare costs. 

Tax-free childcare scheme. This scheme gives you 20% of your yearly childcare costs, paid for by the government. It's available for children under the age of 12, or under 17 for disabled children, with the youngest children getting into the scheme first.

Free early-years childcare. All three and four year olds in the UK are entitled to some free early education or childcare. What hours you’re entitled to depend on where you live.

If you want to find out more about your options for childcare, check out NCTWhich? or the Money Advice Service.

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