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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-and-childcare/universal-credit-childcare-guide
Childcare costs during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
If you are getting Universal Credit, you can claim back up to 85% of the costs of childcare that has taken place and you have already paid for.
You can continue to claim back childcare costs with your Universal Credit if you are a critical worker or if you are a non-critical worker who has access to registered childcare.
Read the latest guidance on:
Paying for childcare in advance
If you pay for more than one month of childcare in advance, you can claim back up to 85% of the costs if the childcare takes place. You can claim back up to 3 assessment periods of childcare costs you pay and report in advance. The payments will be spread over the 3 assessment periods you have paid for. You cannot claim back childcare costs you pay for in advance if no childcare takes place.
You cannot claim back any money your childcare provider asks you to pay to keep a place for your child, if no childcare takes place. This is sometimes known as a retainer. You cannot claim this money back unless it is an advance payment for childcare costs.
Qualifying for Universal Credit childcare costs
You can only get Universal Credit childcare costs if you, or both you and your partner:
- are in paid work, or have accepted an offer of paid work (it does not matter how many hours you or your partner work)
- pay for childcare for the relevant child or young person
Paid work does not include being engaged by a charitable or voluntary organisation or being a volunteer (where the only payment is expenses).
If you have a partner
If you have a partner you must both be in paid work, or have accepted an offer of paid work. Childcare costs may be paid if one partner is working and the other cannot look after the child or children because they:
- have limited capability for work or limited capability for work and work related activity
- care for a severely disabled adult or severely disabled child
- are temporarily absent from the household (for example, in hospital, residential care or in custody)
If you are absent from work
If you or your partner are absent from work you can still get Universal Credit childcare costs for existing childcare if either of you are getting:
- Statutory Sick Pay
- Statutory Maternity Pay
- Statutory Adoption Pay
- Statutory Paternity Pay (including both Ordinary and Additional Statutory Paternity Pay)
- Statutory Shared Parental Pay
- Maternity Allowance
Claiming money for childcare costs
If you are eligible, your childcare costs will be included and paid as part of your Universal Credit payment. You will receive up to 85% of the childcare costs you pay, up to a maximum monthly limit of:
- £646.35 for one child
- £1108.04 for 2 or more children
You can only claim childcare costs for a dependent child up to the 31 August following the child’s 16th birthday.
Depending on your circumstances, there may be a limit on the total amount of benefit you can receive. This is known as the benefit cap.
When you will get paid your childcare costs
You will receive your childcare costs in arrears. This means that you will need to pay the costs yourself and then claim the money back through Universal Credit.
Paying childcare costs in advance
If you pay for childcare in advance, you will receive the costs back as part of your Universal Credit payment. You can claim up to 3 assessment periods of childcare at a time. The eligible childcare costs will be divided across the assessment periods the childcare covers.
Find out more about assessment periods and your payments.
Paying childcare costs after childcare has been provided
If you pay for childcare after it has been provided, you will receive your costs in the same assessment period that you report them. You will receive the payment in one lump sum up to either 85% of those costs or the maximum monthly amount, whichever is lowest. You should report your childcare costs as soon as possible after you have paid them.
When childcare costs cannot be paid
If part of your childcare costs are paid for by someone else (for example by an employer or through a work programme or scheme) you can only claim the remaining balance which is the amount that you, or you and your partner actually pay.
You may still be entitled to get either 15 hours or 30 hours free childcare, and Universal Credit may be able to pay towards any remaining childcare costs.
You can use more than one childcare provider. However, to get Universal Credit childcare costs, the childcare you pay for must be provided by a registered or approved childcare provider. This generally means the childcare provider is registered with one of these organisations:
- England – OFSTED
- Scotland – The Care Inspectorate
- Wales – Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (CSSIW)
You will need to report details of all childcare providers you are using to us.
If your childcare provider is registered with a childminder agency, the agency registration number will need to be provided.
15 hours free childcare
All 3 to 4 year old children in England are entitled to 15 hours free childcare (570 hours per year) from the term after your child’s 3rd birthday. It is usually taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year but you can choose to take fewer hours over more weeks, for example.
30 hours free childcare
If you are claiming Universal Credit you may be able to get up to 30 hours free childcare (1,140 hours per year, which you can choose how you take) if your child is 3 to 4 years old.
Find out more information using the 30 hours free childcare step by step guide.
If you are eligible for the extra hours, you can sign up online to get a code to give to your registered childcare provider to reserve your child’s place. You will get the extra hours once the next term starts.
You can usually get 30 hours free childcare if you (and your partner, if you have one) are:
- in work or getting parental leave, on sick leave or annual leave
- each earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week
This earnings limit does not apply if you are self-employed and started your business less than 12 months ago.
You are not eligible if:
- your child does not usually live with you
- either you or your partner has a taxable income over £100,000 per year
- you’re from outside the EEA and your UK residence card says you cannot access public funds
You cannot get Tax-Free Childcare at the same time as claiming Universal Credit.
Which scheme you’re better off with depends on your situation. You can use the government website Childcare Choices to get further information and work out which type of childcare support is best for you.
Free childcare (and early education) for 2 year olds
If you live in England and are claiming Universal Credit you can get free early education and childcare for your 2 year old.
If you’re eligible, the free early education and childcare:
- must be with an approved childcare provider
- starts from the term after your child’s 2nd birthday