Advice: Can I get help with the cost of childcare to enable me to return to work?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.

Pat Hutchinson MBE.

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By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB

Q: I’m a single parent of one child living in a private rented property and I am due to return to work after maternity leave, but due to costs of childcare I don’t think I will be able to afford to return as I only earn £15,000 gross. Is there any help available with the cost of childcare so I can continue working?

A: There is help available with childcare costs through Working Tax Credits. Claimants are eligible for help of up to 70 per cent of the costs with a maximum of £175 per week for one child and £300 per week for those with more than one child. This is paid through their normal Tax Credit award and the childcare provider must be registered or approved.

Help with childcare costs can be paid up until the child reaches 15, providing you continue to fulfil the eligibility conditions for Tax Credits. Also any help with child care costs paid through Tax Credits are disregarded for Housing Benefit purposes.

We recommend having a full benefits check carried out before deciding whether to return to work or not as leaving work is not always the best option.

Childcare Vouchers: Your employer may offer childcare support in the form of childcare vouchers. The Childcare Voucher Scheme involves giving up some of your pay in exchange for the childcare vouchers and there are tax advantages if you receive vouchers instead of pay. However, if you accept a cut in pay this could reduce your salary to a sum below the lower earnings limit and affect your rights to certain benefits. Your State Pension, Maternity Allowance, Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay and tax credits could all be affected if your pay falls below the lower earnings limit. You also cannot claim this if the remaining salary after childcare voucher deductions takes your salary below the National Minimum Wage.

There is a childcare voucher calculator on the gov.uk website which can help you to establish if you would be better off.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or log on to www.adviceguide.org.uk

Call Newtownabbey CAB, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole on 028 9085 2271 or email enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk