Tax-free childcare is part of the government’s long-term plan to support working families and will provide up to 1.8m families across the UK with up to £2,000 of childcare support per year, per child, via a new online system. It was originally planned that the scheme would launch in Autumn 2015, but, as a result of a direct legal challenge from a small group of childcare voucher providers, development of the scheme was suspended. However, the Supreme Court has recently ruled that government proposals for delivering tax-free childcare are lawful, which means that the scheme can go ahead and is now expected to launch in 2017. Here are some of the key points of the scheme:
- the scheme will be available for children up to the age of 12, and for children with disabilities up to the age of 17
- to qualify for tax-free childcare, parents will have to be in work, earning just over an average of £50 a week and not more than £150,000 per year. Unlike the current rules for employer-supported childcare, eligibility for tax-free childcare is not dependant on the employer offering the scheme
- self-employed parents will be able to qualify for tax-free childcare. For newly self-employed parents, there will be a ‘start-up’ period during which there will be no minimum income level requirement
- the scheme will be available to parents on paid sick leave and paid and unpaid statutory maternity, paternity and adoption leave
Anyone wishing to use the scheme will need to open an online account via the government website and pay in money to the account to cover the cost of childcare with a registered provider. The government will top up accounts with 20% of childcare costs, up to a total of £10,000 – the equivalent of up to £2,000 support per child per year (or £4,000 for disabled children). So, for every 80 pence invested, the government will top up with a 20 pence contribution. HMRC will re-confirm a claimant’s circumstances every three months via a simple online process. Where circumstances change, and the parent no longer wishes to pay into the account, it will be possible to simply withdraw any funds that have built up. However, where funds that have already attracted tax relief are withdrawn, the government will also withdraw its corresponding contribution. There are no particular rules regarding when and how much can be saved in the new accounts. The scheme is designed to give as much flexibility as possible regarding savings. This means that parents can build up a balance in their account to use at times when they need more childcare than usual, for example, over the summer holidays.