It was recently reported in Community Care (Yvonne Roberts, 24 June) that Conservative MP David Willetts had promised to simplify child care funding streams if his party won office. It wouldn’t be before time.
For example, some employers offer child care vouchers which can be used to pay for all forms of registered child care, as well as that provided by close family members and nannies. Vouchers are paid by the employer as part of the parent’s salary. The recipient of the voucher then claims back the value. For further details contact a tax office for leaflet IR115 or visit www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk.
There is also a child care subsidy available through the Job Centre as part of the new deal for lone parents. The recipient must be working less than 16 hours a week and the job must be expected to last for at least five weeks. The subsidy is available for up to 52 weeks and pays up to £67.50 a week for one child or £100 a week for two or more children.
Similar help is available to the partners of people on other New Deal schemes, although the work must be no more than 24 hours a week. For details, call 0800 868868 or check out www.newdeal.gov.uk.
Probably the most well-known form of help with child care costs is the working tax credit scheme. It includes an element to help meet the cost of registered or approved child care for parents working 16 or more hours a week.
The child care element will pay up to 70 per cent of eligible child care costs up to a maximum of £135 a week for one child or £200 a week for two or more children. Families may be eligible for help if they have an income of less than about £32,900 a year with one child or £43,700 with two or more children.
The government may also extend the type of eligible child care in the future to include nannies and some out-of-school clubs catering for older children. For further details contact the tax credits helpline on 0845 3003900 or visit www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/taxcredits.
Less well known is that people claiming housing or council tax benefit or both can get help with child care costs too. When they assess income, the local authority will deduct the full amount of child care costs up to £135 a week for one child or £200 a week for two or more children.
For younger clients (over 16 and under 19) who want to continue their education or undertake training, the Care to Learn scheme could help. This provides help with child care costs, including travel costs to and from the registered child carer, of up to £5,000 a child a year. This scheme is being extended to include under-16s from 1 August 2004 and the amount available for each child will increase to £5,125. For further details, contact Care to Learn on 0845 6002809.
For those aged 19 or over, further education colleges and some other providers run a child care support fund offering free or subsidised child care places to lone parents or students on benefits or low income at their own nurseries. Alternatively, they can help pay for other registered child care. But the fund is cash-limited. For more details, contact Learn Direct on 0800 100900 or visit www.learndirect-advice.co.uk.
Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care.