The cost of childcare is possibly the biggest expense you will face as a parent - and it is on the rise. Latest figures show it has soared by 77% over the past decade, leaving 500,000 mothers priced out of the workplace, according to thinktank the
Those most likely to decide against returning to work because of a lack of flexible and affordable childcare are mothers of three- and four-year-olds and lone parents, says the IPPR, which supports a universal state-funded childcare service delivered through children's centres.
Yet while there are plenty of proposals to tackle the financial burden, what can you do now to make childcare more affordable?
Faye, a fashion designer, and her husband, Daniel, 40, director of a startup, were paying around pounds 973 a month through the centre. "Now May Rose is three we will pay pounds 650 as we get 15 hours free per week," she says. "But government cuts have had a big impact."
The family gets involved in fundraising to help pay for extra equipment. "These centres are vital for parents and local communities. We spend around a third of our monthly salary on childcare, and if the nursery had to close it would have massive consequences."
For information about childcare options and nurseries run by not-for-profit organisations in your area, go to findyourfis.daycaretrust.org.uk.
You can use websites to find other local families looking for childcare. Some divide a nanny's time and others have the nanny take care of both children at once, cutting the cost in half.
When you employ a nanny you take on an employer's payroll responsibility so have to pay tax and national insurance on behalf of your employee, in addition to employer's national insurance contributions. The average cost of employing a nanny as part of a nanny share including tax and NICs, is around pounds 350-pounds 420 a week, split between two families, according to nannyshare.co.uk.
Other sites include findababysitter.com, and thenannysharers.co.uk. Websites such as nannytax.co.uk can help sort out tax and NICs.
Friends and family
"I've used nurseries and an au pair, but it was far too expensive, and I now pay around pounds 500 a month which is less than it's ever been," says Williamson, from
But she can't put the 15 hours of free government childcare for three- and four-year-olds towards time spent by relatives looking after her children.
If you plan to rely on family or friends, there are rules to consider. Under the Childcare Act, anyone other than close family looking after your child for more than two hours a day before
¦ Free childcare: The government provides 15 hours for all three- to four-year-olds and, depending on your household income, your child may be eligible at two. This is offered at a range of places including Sure Start children's centres, nurseries, pre-schools and through registered childminders.
¦ Childcare tax credits: If you work for 16 hours or more a week (or if you're a couple, you must both work more than 16 hours a week) and pay for childcare, you may qualify for the childcare element of working tax credits.
The amount depends on your household income, but if this is under pounds 41,000, it's likely you'll be eligible for some money. This can help you with costs, based on a maximum of pounds 122.50 a week for one child, and pounds 210 for two or more children.
To find out whether you qualify, use the tax credits calculator on gov.uk or call the helpline on 0845 300 3900.
¦ Childcare vouchers: Employers may offer childcare vouchers that allow parents to save up to pounds 624 a year for higher-rate taxpayers, and up to pounds 933 for those on the basic rate.
The government has proposed a new tax-free childcare scheme that will replace the existing vouchers from autumn 2015. Under this, eligible families will get 20% of their yearly childcare costs up to pounds 6,000 paid for by the government, saving parents up to pounds 1,200 per child.
However, parents cannot simultaneously claim support through the employer-supported childcare voucher scheme and the childcare element of working tax credits.
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