Home Living in the UK Family & Pets The childcare system in the UK
Last update on April 30, 2020

If you’re living in the UK, this guide on the UK childcare system also includes information on Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance.

There is good news for parents who have moved to the UK — childcare is easily accessible and you can choose from various options. Naturally, too many options make it hard to decide; so consider each alternative carefully. Coordinate childcare with your working hours and budget in order to find the right balance between your professional career and a rewarding parent-child relationship.

Considering your child’s needs

One of the childcare options you can choose is a childminder. These are self-employed child carers who look after children in their own home. They must be registered with Ofsted in England or Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).

In addition to taking care of your child during pre-school years, you can also count on them later, as they offer childcare before or after school, as well as during school holidays. Some of them offer flexible hours to coordinate with your work schedule.

In order to sign an agreement contract with a childminder, you will need to negotiate rates, including cases of extra working hours, holiday payment, as well as terms and conditions. Prices vary according to your region and the age of the child (it’s usually more expensive for younger children as they require more attention and special care). According to the Childcare Cost Survey 2009, the average price is GBP 150–180 per week.

Children’s centres are also an alternative. Their working hours are usually between 8:00 and 18:00 all year round. You can choose whether to use their services all day long or leave your child in their care for only a few hours a day. All the details on children’s centres can be found on your local Family Information Service website.

Another childcare option is a day nursery. In the UK you may choose between private, community, council or workplace nurseries. They offer full day service for children aged 0 to 5. They are inspected by the same authorities as childminders, and in some cases your child’s stay in the nursery may be subsided by your employer or by the local authority. Prices vary between GBP 140–200 per week.

Part-time child care is also offered in several pre-school facilities: playgroups, early education and nursery classes, and out-of-school services. They all offer part-time daycare service, depending on your work schedule. All of them are appropriate for children 3 to 5 years old. The out-of-school facility offers a breakfast club before school, after school club, and a holiday play scheme – open during school holidays. The cost is approximately GBP 40–50 a week. If you want to find out more, you can visit: www.pre-school.org.uk and www.4children.org.uk.

If you need a flexible child care solution, you can always count on a nanny. A nanny will come to your house and take care of your child in a safe home environment. Some nannies have nursing or childcare training; however, they are not obliged to have special qualifications.

If your nanny is not part of the Ofsted voluntary childcare register or Childcare Approval Scheme in Wales, it is your responsibility to hold an interview, request her references and thoroughly examine her records. Once you have decided to hire a nanny be prepared to pay them between GBP 250–500 a week, plus their tax and national insurance. Check out www.nannyshare.co.uk, and www.greataupairs.co.uk for more details.

You may also want to consider the possibility of alternating registered child care and help from a family member or friend. The advantages of a close friend or a relative taking care of your child are obvious. This type of child care is usually not subsided by the state, but there are some exceptions which qualify for financial support: if the family member is registered as a legitimate childcare provider, or takes care of a non-family child in addition to your child. If the service is provided outside of your home, your family-assistant may also apply for a financial support.

Maternity Allowance and Statutory Maternity Pay

If you are expecting a baby, make sure you have investigated all the possibilities for financial support from the state or from your employer. According to British law, if you have been working for your employer for the past 26 weeks and if you earn an amount at least equal to the lowest income limit (which is currently GBP 102 a week) you are eligible to receive a Statutory Maternity Pay. The SMP is a weekly payment from your employer to help you during the period right before and after your baby is born.

If you do not fit the criteria for a SMP, you may want to apply for a Maternity Allowance. To prove eligibility you will need the following: you must have been rejected for a SMP, you must be self-employed or recently hired. You will usually receive financial support of GBP 128.73 or 90 percent of your average gross weekly earnings, whichever is smaller.

To find out how to apply for both benefits, visit: Expectingorbringingupchildren

On the whole, Britain is quite parent-friendly, and all procedures, from the birth of the baby till he/she starts school, are facilitated. However, keep in mind that you need to apply for financial support and make arrangements with childcare institutions in advance to ensure your baby’s wellbeing. The Childcare Costs Survey from 2009 warns that over 50 percent of parents think that there is an insufficient amount of childcare facilities.