Parents with children aged between nine and 11 can now apply for the Government's Tax-Free Childcare scheme, meaning its roll-out is complete.
The programme gives eligible parents or guardians up to £2,000 per child towards childcare costs each year.
The scheme was launched in April 2017 for those with children aged under four on 31 August 2017, and was extended in November to parents of kids aged four or five. It was then expanded to children under nine in mid-January and children under 12 today.
Parents of children under 17 years old with a disability have been able to apply for Tax-Free Childcare since its launch.
Tax-Free Childcare was expected to be rolled out by the end of last year, but was delayed. More than 190,000 parents have successfully applied for the scheme since it began, though the delay is just one in a long series of problems it's faced, with almost 1,000 official complaints made about it in its first three months.
See Tax-Free Childcare for more information.
What is Tax-Free Childcare?
Under the Tax-Free Childcare scheme, parents and carers in the UK can open a special account to save for childcare costs.
For every 80p you deposit, the state adds 20p. In total the state can add up to £2,000 per child a year (or up to £4,000 if your child has a disability) so including what you deposit, you can use the scheme to pay for up to £10,000 of childcare per child each year.
It's worth noting you can only get a maximum top-up of £500 every three months, but the state's extra 20% is added at the point you put money into your Tax-Free Childcare account, not when you spend it.
So if you don't need to pay for childcare year-round, and instead only do so seasonally, to avoid missing out on any state top-up, put money into your account throughout the year. This way you'll earn the max amount of top-up as you go, and you can spend it only when you need to.
Who is eligible and how do you apply for the scheme?
Tax-Free Childcare is now available to those with children under 12.
- You and your partner must both be in work in the UK (those who are self-employed now also qualify).
- You must be 16 or over. If you're over 21 you must earn on average at least £120 a week, unless you're in your first year of self-employment.
- You must each earn less than £100,000 a year.
- You can't get other support with your childcare, including from a Childcare Voucher or salary sacrifice scheme.
You need to sign up for an account on the Childcare Choices website.
To sign up you'll need:
- Your national insurance number.
- If you're self-employed, your unique taxpayer reference.
- The date you started, or are due to start work.
- Details of any other Government support you get.
What problems has the scheme faced?
Tax-Free Childcare has been riddled with problems, mainly affecting its website. A timeline of issues can be seen below:
- May 2017 Tax-Free Childcare website hit by 'intermittent' technical issues
- May 2017 Government childcare website dogged by technical issues continues to cause problems for parents
- June 2017 Parents face fines as 'inaccessible' website leaves them unable to pay for childcare
- June 2017 Widespread problems with new Government childcare website revealed in MSE-Netmums survey
- August 2017 Almost 1,000 official complaints lodged about Government childcare website
- November 2017 Tax-Free Childcare delayed for older children after website chaos
- January 2018 HMRC website glitch means parents are being told they AREN'T eligible for 30 hours of free childcare
What does the Government say?
Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: "Tax-Free Childcare will cut thousands of pounds from childcare bills and is good news for working parents.
"More parents will be able to work if they want to and this demonstrates our commitment to helping families with the cost of living.
"All eligible parents with children under 12 can now apply through Childcare Choices and should take advantage of the available support."