A couple of weeks in and it’s already started.
‘Why didn’t you come to my Open Day today Mummy??’
‘Ummmm… Open Day?’
‘Yes, my Open Day at School, I got all my books out ready to show you but nobody came…’
Shit. Shit shit shit. How could I have forgotten that? I’d even put it on the calendar. I’ve been back at work for two weeks and already I’m dropping balls.
The thing you find when you have three kids is that everyone (and I mean everyone) assumes you won’t be returning to work. That once you have child number three, working simply becomes an unnecessary luxury. Turns out though, that the mortgage payments don’t stop because Nationwide take pity on your poor child beaten soul (I mean, I haven’t worked my way through the whole list of lenders- you never know, there may be one with tiptop family values?!)
Now don’t get me wrong, I realise in many situations, putting three children into childcare is just not worth the financial output. But if like us you have big bills and kind (albeit slightly weary) Grandparents offering free (but oh so appreciated mum, if you are reading this) childcare, then working is the only option. So yes Sandra in accounts, I am back and yes I do realise that they are only young once and no I know I won’t get this time back but… I sorta would like to feed my kids.
But the fact that the choice is made for me doesn’t make it any easier. Walking into work a couple of weeks ago, I felt like someone had ripped my insides out. I was longing to be at home listening to baby giggles, doing the school run, screw it, even wiping the 3 year old’s bum; I just wanted to go back to being mummy all day.
I’m going to be honest, day one was tough. Trying to get my head back into ‘work mode’ whilst simultaneously wondering whether the baby had napped long enough for Nanna, if the 3 year old was enjoying her second day at her new pre school (god bless those 30 free hours) and whether I’d remembered a snack for the eldest’s after school club, was all a bit overwhelming. But it did get easier. Eating lunch in the canteen I actually got to have a WHOLE CONVERSATION. People actually listened to me and I even finished my sentences. I also came away without so much as a splash of food on my dress. WINNING!
Also the big one for me is that now I’m earning some actual money again I might be able treat the kids every now and then as let’s be honest, statutory maternity pay ain’t pretty. That being said, obviously I’m back to forking out on childcare. Which, as it turns out, hasn’t got any cheaper. I’ve been in the childcare game for a while now (3 kids here remember?!) and in that time there have been some changes to the options available when it comes to childcare assistance for working parents.
What are they?
Childcare Vouchers can be used to pay for participating nurseries and childminders as well as for holiday clubs for older children. They are usually offered as a salary sacrifice scheme; the voucher amount is deducted from your gross pay rather than your net pay, meaning you do not pay tax or NI on them. However there are some generous employers who will offer them in addition to normal pay.
The amount you are entitled to will depend on your earnings. The table below gives an outline of the amount of vouchers you will be able to take and the annual savings that can be made:
|Basic rate taxpayers||£55||£243||£933|
|Higher rate taxpayers||£28||£124||£623|
|Additional rate taxpayers||£25||£110||£623|
Also, if your partner’s employer offers the vouchers you will be able to make even more savings.
Not all employers offer them unfortunately so check with your HR department, if you have one. In my experience, the smaller the company, the less likely it is that this is something they will be offering, but it’s always worth an ask.
Childcare vouchers are currently being phased out by the Government in favour of the new Tax Free Childcare. The scheme will no longer be open to new applicants after the 6 April 2018 however if you already pay into a childcare voucher/ salary sacrifice scheme; you will be able to continue doing so. If you are going back to work imminently though, it still might be worth checking it out (err pretty sharpish ideally!)
Tax Free Childcare
What is it?
Pretty much what it says on the tin – tax free childcare. Basically, you open an online account and for every 80p you pay in, the government will pay in 20p (essentially they are paying in the amount equivalent to the tax rate that most people pay – 20%.) You can get up to £2000 government help each year (or £4000 for a disabled child). So all in all, not too shabby.
The scheme is currently available to all parents with children under the age of 12 (or 17 for disabled children). To qualify you need to be earning at least £120 a week but no more than £100,000 a year.
Childcare Vouchers vs Tax Free Childcare: Which is right for me?
What works for you as a family can depend on various factors. As a general rule of thumb, tax free childcare is better if a family’s cost is over £9,330 for a basic rate tax payer and £6,252 for a higher rate tax payer. However it is definitely worth doing a comparison to see which works best for you. You can find a handy little table to help you here.
Free hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds
Turns out that yes, this really can be as good as its sounds. When they hit the age of 3 (ok so its actually ‘the term after they turn 3’ – slightly annoying if like me you have Spring born children who popped into the world at the very start of the Easter term – roll on September!) all children are entitled to 15 gloriously free hours of childcare. Now there is a slight catch here – the 15 hours must be with an approved childcare provider and are only based on term time weeks, so if like most of us poor souls, you are contracted to work full year then this will work out to be around 11 hours per week – but will still save you a fair bit.
Free hours for 2 year olds
If you qualify for certain benefits, you may be entitled to receive these free hours when your child hits 2 (ok, ok, I mean the term after they turn 2). You can check whether you qualify to receive these free hours for your 2 year old here.
30 Free hours
This was rolled out nationwide in September 2017, for children with parents that both work at least 16 hours per week and earn over £120 per week. The system is new and to be honest; slightly clunky. You have to sign up to the ‘Government Gateway’ and then complete a fairly long winded form (be prepared to have your passport and NI number to hand) for the free hours – you will then be given a code to give to your childcare provider. You then need to reconfirm your details before the end of each term – although it turns out this process is a lot simpler (providing you can find your long ID number which you will have written down on a scrap of paper and thrown in the ‘messy drawer’, never to be seen again. Or maybe that’s just me…)
So hopefully that covers it. Now you all you need to worry about is fighting the other parents to the death to get your child an actual place in nursery….
*you can get 30 free hours as well as claiming tax free childcare or childcare vouchers, but you wont be eligible if you or your partner earn over £100,000 per year (lucky you!)