Can I afford to pay for childcare while I work?

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Thinking about returning to work after having kids? This guide will help you decide whether you can afford to pay for childcare and which option might be best for you

According to new figures from the British Chambers of Commerce, more than 25% of employees have cut their hours because of high childcare costs. The report found that almost 10% had quit for the same reason.

Currently, three- and four-year-olds in the UK are entitled to up to 15 hours of free early education and childcare per week. This entitlement will double to 30 hours a week in 2017, which may take the pressure off for some parents, but can you really afford to work before your children are of school age?

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The average cost of childcare

If you’re looking for part-time childcare, say 25 hours for a child under two, you can expect to pay a weekly average of:

  • £104.27 for a registered childminder
  • £116.77 for a day nursery
  • £237.50 to £375 for a nanny

If you’re looking for full-time childcare support, say 50 hours for a child under two, you can expect to pay a weekly average of:

  • £202.22 for a registered childminder
  • £217.57 for a day nursery
  • £350 to £650 for a live-in nanny (plus tax, National Insurance, and room and board)

Other expenses

Remember that you will also have expenses such as travel and work clothing to factor in to your working week.

Financial support available

Government schemes such as the Working Tax Credit, Universal Credit or Tax-Free Childcare scheme (from 2017) may help to offset some of your childcare costs. Your employer may also be able to offer childcare vouchers or direct payment for childcare.

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Childcare ‘hacks’

There are ways to cut the cost of childcare if your employer is willing to be flexible and if you have people you can pool resources with nearby. You could:

  • Enlist the help of a trusted friend or relative (the child’s grandparents, for example) for free-of-charge childcare.
  • Introduce a shared childcare scheme, where you and another parent take it in turns to look after the children. You would need a flexible working arrangement for this to work and you will need to factor in lost earnings when it’s your turn to provide childcare.
  • Take advantage of free or low-cost childcare options such as nursery schools, play groups and preschools, breakfast clubs and Sure Start Children’s Centre sessions.
  • Nanny share, dividing the cost of a nanny with another family.
  • Hire a nanny just to be with the children before and after nursery.
  • Use staggered starts and finishes to minimise your childcare costs.
  • Work three long days rather than five shorter days.
  • Work a day from home each week so you don’t have to pay pre- and post-nursery childcare costs.

It’s vital that your childcare provision is close to your home or workplace so that valuable time (and money) is saved. Some employers offer onsite childcare facilities, so it’s worth asking what’s available.

Talk to your employer about the benefits available and about flexible working arrangements. The chances are they will be accommodating. Think about what your ideal working week would look like and how much you would need to earn to make it work.

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Which childcare option is right for you?

 1.       Family or friends

Help from relatives or friends can be a really cost-effective option and is a great way for loved ones to bond with your children. However, they may have different ideas about parenting from you and tensions can arise, particularly if you’re not paying for the service. Talk about ground rules and expectations before you make any long-term arrangements.

2.       Nanny or au pair

Nannies may work on a live-in or live-out basis, taking charge of childcare and perhaps some minimal household duties. Au pairs will live with you family and may assist with light housework. They tend to be younger and less experienced, but are often cheaper to hire than nannies. Make sure you use a licensed and experienced agency and find out how much training the nanny or au pair has had and to get the background information you need.

3.       External childcare

Out-of-home care may include childcare centres, childminder care at his or her home and programmes such as preschools and playgroups. A single adult should have primary responsibility for no more than one baby under the age of 12 months in any care setting. For overall infant care, a child-to-staff ratio of three to one is recommended. By the time your child is three or four, it can be really beneficial to have at least some exposure to other children and to be part of a structured programme such as a preschool or day care.

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Childcare checklist

Whichever option you go for, it’s vital that you ensure any potential childcare provider is DBS checked and that you have recent references. That should even include family members and friends!

Other things to tick off your childcare checklist include:

  • Drawing up a contract (formal or informal) outlining expected duties, hours, salary, paid holiday and sick leave
  • Making sure the home or agency is licensed and fully inspected
  • Ensuring that caregivers have basic CPR and early childhood development training
  • Putting in place written policies on sickness and discipline
  • Making sure that health, safety and hygiene are a priority
  • Checking that all children and staff members are up-to-date on immunisations
  • Ensuring that your child’s age and any special needs are taken into account
  • Choosing a childcare provider who makes your child feel safe, relaxed and ready to learn

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