Childcare benefits, tax credits and other help for working parents
If you're working or going back to work, and you've got children, you can get financial and practical help with childcare. From tax credits to flexible working arrangements, there's lots of support available to make your life easier.
Funded pre-school education
Funded pre-school education is available in nursery schools, primary schools with nursery classes and some voluntary and private playgroup settings and day nurseries.
The pre-school education programme is targeted at children in the year immediately before they enter Primary One. For September 2013, that means children who reach their 3rd birthday on or before 1 July 2013.
All parents of children who will be entering their immediate pre-school year in September 2013 were encouraged to apply.
Most places are available for at least 2½ hours per day, 5 days per week for at least 38 weeks during the period September to June.
Further information about the admissions process is available on the Department of Education website and information about free places in your area is available from your local education and library board.
Tax credits are payments from the government. If you're responsible for at least one child or young person who normally lives with you, you may qualify for Child Tax Credit.
If you work, but earn low wages, you may qualify for Working Tax Credit. If you work and pay for childcare you may also be able to get extra tax credits to help with the costs.
Time off and flexible working
Time off ('parental leave')
If you're a working parent, you can take up to 13 weeks parental leave for each child until their fifth birthday (you get more than this if you have a disabled child). Your employer doesn't have to pay you when you take this leave, but they might as part of your employment package.
Flexible working lets you ask your employer for a new working pattern to help you care for your child. You have a right to request a flexible working pattern if you've got a child aged under 17 or a disabled child under 18. Your employer has to consider your request seriously.
To have the right to ask for flexible working, you must:
- have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks
- be the child's mother, father, adopter, legal guardian or foster parent - or be the partner of one of these
- have responsibility for the child's upbringing
- be making the application so that you'll be able to care for the child
- Flexible working and work-life balance (employment section)
- Flexible working: making your application (employment section)
Job Grant is a work related payment you may get when you or your partner move directly from benefit into work. Find out if you qualify for a Job Grant, how much it is and how to claim it.
Child maintenance and your benefits
If you (or your current partner who you live with) are claiming Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, any child maintenance you receive has no effect on the amount of benefit that the Social Security Agency pays you.
However it is your responsibility to tell your nearest Jobs and Benefits/Social Security office about any child maintenance you receive.
Find out more about maintenance and benefits:
Getting help from your employer
Some employers now offer their employees help to pay for childcare, this can include:
- paying you cash to pay for childcare
- paying the childcare fees directly
- paying the child’s school fees
Should your employer offer any of the above, you will be liable for tax and national insurance contributions on whatever aid is given. There are other types of childcare support your employer could provide however, without you having to pay tax or national insurance contributions. These are:
- childcare vouchers
- directly contracted childcare
- workplace nurseries
For more information on the different types of help you could get from your employer, download the leaflet below.
Steps to Work - Assistance with childcare costs
Are you a lone parent or the partner of a benefit claimant and looking for work? Extra money to help with your childcare costs is now available to make it easier for you to take part in Steps to Work and find a job.