For working parents, the approaching long summer holiday can be a total nightmare with few families able to take the entire six weeks off.
Indeed, a recent survey by HMRC found that a third (33%) of parents get stressed out arranging childcare in the school holidays. A third also felt anxious about juggling work commitments with the needs of their kids.
It’s sad, but hardly surprising, then that more than half (54%) of parents admit to being relieved when the kids go back to school in September and the normal routine resumes.
I work three days a week and have two boys at primary school, and for us it’s a case of juggling holiday clubs and calling in help from grandparents for around a month, with two weeks off as annual leave.
On top of a family holiday and the odd outing here and there on my days off, it makes for an expensive time of year. We are looking at £50 a day for both boys for a reasonably unstructured holiday club. Yet for specialist (read: more exciting) camps with more activities laid on (anything from football through to robotic Lego courses, den building, cooking and multi activity camps featuring swimming, inflatable Sumo wrestling, climbing walls and bungee runs) – the cost for both boys can head north of £70, even £80 for the day, particularly if you need to drop off before 10am and pick up after 3pm, which let’s face it, will be a requirement of most working parents.
Tax-free childcare can take the ‘sting out of the tail’
However, what can really take the sting out of this expense is tax-free childcare. Most commonly known as a means of helping to pay for pre-school childcare, many parents do not realise that this can also be used for older children for any extra-curricular activities where the provider accepts payments in this way – so this includes holiday camps, play schemes and wrap-around care before and after school.
We use childcare vouchers offered by our employers – they enable us to buy £243 worth of vouchers before tax or national insurance has been deducted. This can save each parent up to £77.76 each month.
However, the government also has its own tax-free childcare scheme. Under this, for every £8 you pay into your account, the government will top it up by £2, and you can get a maximum of £2,000 per child each year.
Which scheme works best for you will depend on a number of factors including how many children you have to how old they are and whether any are disabled. Your earnings also come into play – the government scheme won’t be open to you if you or your partner earn more than £100,000.
You can find out more by looking at the websites of childcare voucher providers including Care-4.co.uk, Computersharevoucherservices.com and Edenred.co.uk, as well as on the government’s childcare website (Gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs), which also includes a childcare calculator to help you work out what support you are eligible for.
Do note though, that if you are likely to be better off with vouchers provided via your employer, don’t delay, even if you don’t have summer holiday costs to contend with. The schemes are closing to new joiners, so the first payment into your account needs to be made by a deadline of 4 October this year.
Whichever form you use, tax-free childcare, won’t help with all the emotional stress that comes from being a working parent during the school holidays, but it will mean you’ve got more cash to play with when you do get your family time.