Summer holidays need not spell financial hardship for parents

Childcare costs are rising at an alarming rate, and the coming six-week break means additional strain on incomes. But, Chiara Cavaglieri reports, there are ways of making the time off affordable

We may envy school children their six-week summer holiday.

But for the parents it is a trying time with rising childcare costs and, more often than not, simply no idea how to keep their offspring busy without paying through the nose.

The 2011 childcare costs survey from the national charity Daycare Trust shows that parents face an increasingly difficult challenge. In England, the cost of a nursery place for a child at least two years old is up 4.8 per cent, and for a child under two, parents are paying £5,028 for 25 hours' nursery care per week.

The most expensive nursery in this year's survey, located in the West Midlands, costs £11 per hour, equating to a staggering annual bill of £14,300 for the same amount of care.

To cut costs, first of all, use up any entitlement to free childcare. In England, every three and four-year-old is eligible for at least 15 hours per week with a registered childcare provider, whether it's a playgroup, nursery or childminder. Then scout around for free or subsidised summer clubs offered by local schools, even the ones your child doesn't attend, churches, leisure centres and, crucially, your local council.

"Our advice to parents is be organised and plan your holiday childcare as early as possible, as good services will fill up quickly. Local authorities can also help you find suitable local holiday childcare, so contact your family information service for more information," says Anand Shukla, chief executive at Daycare Trust.

You may be surprised by what you find. For example, the Summer in the City 2011 programme in Kensington and Chelsea for under 19-year-olds features events such as archery for beginners, a carnival arts course, digital video making and football for girls to name just a few, all either heavily subsidised or free.

This summer, National Citizen Service (NCS) is offering 11,000 places for Year 11s in England for a three-week residential course costing only £50, which includes two weeks away from home and the chance to work with your local community and take part in outdoor activities such as mountaineering, canoeing and abseiling. Details of the NCS projects in different areas are available on Direct Gov (direct.gov.uk).

YHA England and Wales also runs Do It 4 Real camps (doit4real.co.uk) across England for 10 to 19-year-olds which used to be subsidised by the Department for Education. This funding has now been withdrawn but prices are still competitive, costing from £99 for a two-night stay, up to £349 for seven nights which includes all activities, food, snacks, transport and entertainment. There are camps of all different types and prices all over the UK so it is well worth investigating.

In 2009 Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, hit the headlines when he subsidised the opening of Camp Quest UK, a summer camp for atheists. Located in Essex, Malvern and Somerset, the camps cost from £250 but reduced rates are available to parents who would otherwise struggle and all parents are free to pay in instalments.

Also, if you have more than one child you may be eligible for a discount if you send them together. Just make sure the camp you pick is licensed by the British Activity Holiday Association and that any activities are licensed by the Adventure Activity Licensing Authority.

When it comes to paying for childcare, check your entitlement to any benefits or tax credits and then see if you can sign up for the Government's childcare voucher scheme. This allows you to pay for childcare from pre-tax earnings, so you don't pay tax or national insurance on these fees.

The scheme works by salary sacrifice, so you give up £1,000 of your salary for vouchers, but for a basic-rate taxpayer it would really costs only £700 when you consider the tax saving. This isn't open to every working parent – you must be paid via the PAYE system and your employer needs to be registered for the scheme – and if you are on lower income it could cut the tax credits you are eligible for so it may not always be worthwhile.

For many parents, however, these vouchers are of huge benefit and the great news is that they are far more versatile than you might think. They can be used to pay not only for traditional nursery childcare but also for other childcare providers as long as they are registered with Ofsted.

"Many parents do not realise they can use them towards the cost of a range of activities for the kids, including holiday and adventure camps, activity clubs and after school clubs.

"It is always advisable to ask if vouchers are accepted, to ensure you are not missing out financially," says Julian Foster, managing director of childcare voucher provider Computershare Voucher Services (CVS).

In fact, recently CVS quizzed 1,000 parents about vouchers and the results showed surprising levels of ignorance. More than half of the parents said they didn't know they could use vouchers for these types of activity, assuming they were for traditional daycar. In addition, the survey also showed that only 1 per cent of all childcare vouchers used by parents in the past year were put towards summer holiday clubs and activities; and only 9 per cent for after-school clubs.

Expert View

Anand Shukla, Daycare Trust

"For many parents, the cost of childcare over the summer holidays is the equivalent of paying for a family holiday abroad. It's important that parents ensure they access any financial assistance that they are entitled to, such as working tax credits if they are using a registered childcare provider."

Allowances: Ease the pressure on your bank balance

First of all, use up any entitlement to free childcare. In England, every three- and four-year old is eligible for at least 15 hours per week with a registered childcare provider, whether it's a playgroup, nursery or childminder.

If you are not yet claiming for child benefit, request a claim pack from HM Revenue & Customs. This is worth £20.30 for the eldest child and £13.40 for any subsequent children until they reach 16, or 20 if they are in full-time education.

You can claim for child tax credit for a new baby, any child living with you until age 16, or 20 if they are in full-time education. The amount you receive is based on separate elements and depends on your income, but the maximum family element is worth £545 a year and the child element is worth up to £2,555 per child. If your family income is more than £15,860, the child element will be reduced at a rate of 41 per cent, but you can earn up to £40,000 before the family element is reduced at the same rate.

If you and your partner work at least 16 hours or more per week, you may also be able to claim for help paying childcare (known as the childcare element of working tax credit). You can get help for up to 70 per cent of your childcare costs, up to a maximum limit of £122.50 per week for one child and £210 per week for two or more children.

Childcare vouchers allow you to pay for childcare directly from your gross salary. Each parent can claim a maximum of £243 of vouchers a month which can be used to pay for any Ofsted-registered provider. Be warned that childcare vouchers can impact on your eligibility for tax credits so use the HM Revenue & Customs calculator first (hmrc.gov.uk/calcs/ccin.htm).

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice