According to research by the national childcare charity Daycare Trust, finding affordable childcare during the summer break is one of the biggest headaches for parents. Yet because of the lack of places and the high cost, most parents don’t actually organise their summer childcare until a few weeks beforehand. The costs and shortage of places can be overwhelming, often meaning parents end up taking unpaid leave and using the bulk of annual holiday entitlement to be with the kids With family budgets being squeezed by the effects of the recession, our advice may help ease the burden.
Parents of children aged 16 and under have the right to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements. Employers are obliged to consider any application for flexible working and can only reject it if there’s a good business reason for doing so. Flexible working takes several forms: either part-time, flexi time (choosing when to work), compressed hours (working your agreed hours over fewer days), staggered hours (different starting and finishing times for employees in the same workplace); job sharing; working from home for part or all of your hours; or term-time only working. Discuss these options with your employer to try and find an arrangement that suits you both. Read our article on flexible working for more information.
If you’re receiving tax credits, you are eligible for help with holiday childcare costs, which increase significantly if your children are spending longer with their childminder or if they’re going to a playscheme. Depending on household income, parents may be able to get up to £122.50 a week for one child and £210 a week for two or more children. Visit www.payingforchildcare.org.uk for more information. Parents who get childcare vouchers from their employer may also be able to get some money for childcare costs through tax credits as well.
Use your vouchers
Don’t forget there’s a wide network of summer holiday clubs which offer extended hours (often 8am – 6pm) and accept childcare vouchers as payment.
Find a playscheme
Visit your local library or your council’s website to find out about local authority summer playschemes. These are often run by voluntary organisations, local authorities or charities. These may run for part or all of a working day, giving you the opportunity perhaps to work flexibly during the summer break. For information on holiday clubs near you, call the Families Information Service national helpline on 0800 2 346 346.
Talk to other parents
Ask around at school to find parents who are also juggling holiday and childcare to see if you can take turns to work and mind each other’s children. This can help reduce the need for you to take unpaid leave. Your PTA should know of local childminders already providing care for children at your school, or other parents who may be able to help you with informal childcare arrangements.
Help at home
If you have more than one child and need full-time summer childcare, it might surprise you to know that a summer au pair may be a cost-effective option. Summer au pairs will provide around six hours of childcare a day for around £85 – £100, regardless of the number of children. It’s really important to find an au pair through a reputable agency: Look for those registered with BAPAA (British Au Pair Agencies Association)
Use the internet
For the days you’re off with the kids, remember that the internet offers a wealth of information on what’s available free, or low-cost, locally as well as nationally. Read our advice on keeping children entertained through the holidays for more information.