Do I have to pay for childcare?

Childcare is expensive and complicated. You need to be switched on!

As a parent you have to know where your children will be and who will be caring for them, every hour of every day. This is simple if they’re either home with you all time time or at school. However what happens if you work?

You need a whole team of people to help you. If that team contains anyone other than close friends or family who won’t charge, you’re going to have to find the money to pay for childcare. You need help with this too. 

So what do you do? You try and make a list of people who can help. You try to get your kids a place at a local day nursery or after school clubs. You have all the relevant phone numbers somewhere written down either in your phone or diary. You google what help you can get to pay for it. There are so many schemes! It’s a nightmare trying to work out if you’re eligible for each scheme and then you realise because you’re claiming one form of support it alters your eligibility to the next one. It’s a mess. 

That’s why I’ve created this post and the UK-country specific guides linked at the bottom of the page. My aim is to help you by simplifying the information you’d find on your google search into an easy to understand overview. 

Can you get help to pay for childcare?


The vast majority of families need some help in paying for and providing childcare for their kids, especially if one or both parents are working. 

Many of the childcare schemes available in the UK have lower and upper limits on income, related to each individual parent (and not that of the whole family). This can at times appear unfair. 

What’s more, the wide variety of schemes in place in different parts of the UK can make deciphering the help available really tricky. 

Each income limit doesn’t take into account the cost of living in different parts of the UK and you may find there is local variation in what’s available.

Despite these issues, there are some great schemes available that really will help families across the UK. They allow parents to work alongside raising children and this means they can provide a better income for their family.

We’ve created guides for families in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which you can access at the bottom of the page.  

How many hours per week do I need childcare for?

This question is easier to answer if you and your partner have a relatively set working routine. If you both work changeable shifts it is a lot more difficult. You can start by getting an answer to each question for each and every day then totalling up the week. 

  • How many hours will your kids be away from you or your partner, and not in school? 
  • How many hours of ‘free’ childcare can my family or friends provide?
  • How many hours do I have to cover (either free via entitlements, or paid for?)

Once you know how many hours you need to cover, read our plans and make notes on which schemes you may be eligible for and how many hours or free childcare you could receive. Then you’ll know how many extra hours you need to pay for yourself. You can then work this into a family budget with much greater confidence. 

What’s my emergency childcare plan?

You need childcare options and you need a plan for emergencies when your childcare arrangements fail, which they will inevitably do!

You should ask at least 3 people to be potential emergency childcare contacts for you. These could be family members eg grandparents, or friends. You could be a friend’s emergency childcare contact too.

Of course not everyone has local trusted family or friends they can ask to help. This makes your childcare plan ever more important. 

Many childminders work together to cover each other’s work loads and if yours has let you down they may be able to direct you to someone else. You can search for emergency childcare once you make an account at This way you’ll be able to search local, available, checked and accredited people in a hurry.

How to structure your childcare plan

In my work for certain procedures we plan for the worst case scenario and have plans A/B/C/D in every case. We practice for the failure of each plan and know what to do in each event. This has helped me structure my approach to certain life situations too. 

If you’re working and using childcare to look after your kids, you need a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. This is important contingency planning which can save you a lot of headaches down the line. 

Plan A is your core childcare plan, be it nursery, childminder, grandparents, yourself or otherwise. 

Plan B and Plan C are what you need to get in place now.

You can write all the numbers down on a ‘Emergency Childcare Plan’ if this helps.

Plan D is that you call work to say you can’t come in due to a childcare emegency. This is the last resort. Most employers will understand if this happens once and you explain why it happened. Many of my colleagues have been in the same situation and called in, we got on with it. It becomes an issue though it it’s a recurring theme. This is why it’s plan D.

Use a diary to organise your childcare headache!

You need to know exactly where your kids are at all times, and how and when they’re going to move between each place. It can end up being a right pain. I never used to be a ‘diary person’. I would get at least one new diary from family members every Christmas and then never use it when the new year came around…. however a diary is essential for working out your childcare arrangements. 

You can have the arrangements and times written down for each and every day in there. If you’re super organised (and after you’ve developed the routine) you can write down your commute time and when you need to leave or set off. This seems silly but it will save a lot of worrying about being late. For example, I write down the place of childcare and my journey in brackets – ‘Day nursery 0900-1530 (home-nursery 20 minutes walk, leave 0840)’.

Honestly! Doing it like this helps.

You can download our Childcare Options plan in (printable) pdf format when you sign up to our newsletter via the Pay for Parenting homepage!

Plan Ahead. What childcare will you have available next year? What about next term? 

Your child (or children) are growing up every day and it can seem like too quickly. 

If you think you have your childcare arrangements sorted then it may be that in one month, three months or six months that they’ll all change again when they hit another birthday. 

Try and have an idea in your head (or ideally written down on paper) what your child’s childcare journey will look like. 

If you’ve managed this you can now annotate it with notes, for example:

  • when the deadlines are for applying for each place
  • Your first, second, third choices for placements
  • Things you need to do (eg forms, online applications)

Then take a photo of it on your phone and place it in a subfolder in your gallery called ‘Kids’ or ‘Important’. You can refer back to it often. If you need to change it, repeat the drawing and add it again to your folder. 

So which Childcare Schemes do I qualify for?

Now we’ve reached the point where we can delve into all of the possible schemes available to you. These differ between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. To stop this post being horrendously complex I have split the information into country specific pages. Click on your country below and learn more!

If you’re finding this content helpful, please share it with your friends!

  • Our posts on childcare in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are coming soon!
  • If you’re living in England, click on the flag for our simple but indepth guide!


Coming Soon!