Tax-Free Childcare; explaining how it works

What is Tax-Free Childcare?

For every £8 a family spends on childcare, the government will provide an additional £2, up to a maximum of £2000 per year, per child.The scheme operates via an online "childcare account". Parents pay money into the account, and the government automatically adds their contribution. Childcare bills are then paid using the combined money in the account.

Who is eligible?

Eligibility for this scheme depends on 4 factors:

  • Parent(s) employment status
  • Parent(s) income
  • Parent(s) nationality
  • Child's age and circumstances

Both parents' information will be taken into account if they live together, regardless of whether or not they are married. The only exception to this is if one parent will be absent from the home for more than 6 months, or are in prison. Please note that a "parent" includes the partner of a biological mother or father too.

Parent Employment Status

Parents' employment status is eligible for this scheme if they are:

  • Currently working
  • On sick leave or using annual leave
  • On parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave
  • One parent is working, and the other receives Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer's Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance
  • Parent(s) not in work are starting work in the next 31 days

Parent Income

Parents' income is eligible for this scheme if they expect to earn at least the national living wage for 16 hours a week, over the next 3 months.


If parent(s) are 25 years or older, they must expect to earn at least £1,707.68 over the next 3 months


If a parent earns £100,000 per year or more, they will be ineligible for this scheme.

Parent Nationality

If a parent is from outside the European Economic Area, and their UK residence card says they are ineligible for public funds, they will not be eligible for this scheme. If only one parent is ineligible on this basis, their partner can still apply.

Child's Age & Circumstances

  • Children are eligible for this scheme from birth, until the 1st September after their 11th birthday
  • Adopted children are eligible, but foster children are not
  • Children who are disabled can receive £4000 per year, up to the age of 17

Can this scheme be used with other benefits?

This scheme can not be used by families who are already claiming Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Universal Credit or who are using childcare vouchers. Parents should use the Government's Childcare Calculator to work out whether they will benefit more by using this scheme, instead of their existing one.

Families can access the "30 hours free childcare" for 2, 3 and 4 year olds at the same time as using this scheme.

How do parents apply for this scheme?

The application process is completed online, here. They will need to spend about 20 minutes on the application, and will need their National Insurance Number (and their partner's if applicable) to hand.

Self-employed parents will also need their Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR).

The application process will also confirm a familys' eligibility for the 30 hours free childcare scheme.


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