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How to apply for 30 hours Tax-Free Childcare

31 March 2023

Maternity leave is bliss, but at some point, you may need to think about returning to work. Many have to go back to cover family costs and return to the career they’ve worked hard for before having children. However, then comes the dreaded childcare costs. The price for children to attend a full-time childcare setting in the UK is high, leaving many families in a difficult position.

However, there is help at hand, and two government schemes, 30 free hours and tax-free childcare, have been set up primarily to help parents return to and stay at work.

If you’re new to these schemes, the 30 free hours enable preschoolers aged 3-4 to receive 30 free hours a week in settings open 38 weeks per year or 22 hours over 52 weeks. The tax-free childcare system is slightly different and available for children aged 0-11. Here, the government contributes 20% of your total bill, up to £2000 per year. The schemes are available for anybody living in the United Kingdom.

How and where to Apply

The good news is that you apply for 30 free hours and tax-free childcare as one. This doesn't mean you must use both, but it makes the process more straightforward. 

Check your eligibility

Firstly, it’s a good idea to check your eligibility; the criteria are the same for both. The essential requirement is that both you and your partner live and work in the UK and work 16 or more hours a week (or the financial equivalent.) You can also apply if you plan to start working within 31 days. Otherwise, you may set up an account with no benefit.

Check your provider

Although most early years provisions have signed up for the scheme, they don't have to, so it’s worth checking yours before applying. If they haven’t, there’s no harm in asking if they can, to help you with your costs. The good news is that you can also use the tax-free childcare for breakfast and afterschool clubs, but again, it’s worth checking if they offer it first.


The first step to apply is setting up a Government Gateway account at https://childcare-support.tax.service.gov.uk/par/app/trialmessage. Once you’ve opened your account, you can apply for your child here. It’s also where you will receive secure messages from HMRC. After making a decision, you’ll receive a secure message notifying you of the outcome. 

After applying

If your application is approved, you can start using the tax-free childcare immediately via the online payment system; however, for 30 free hours, you’ll receive a code to give your childcare provider to activate the free hours. To keep these benefits, you must respond to HMRC messages asking you to reconfirm your details. Otherwise, you’ll need to reapply.

Will it affect my tax credits?

It’s important to note that whilst you can use 30 free hours of childcare alongside Universal credit, and tax-free childcare, it will affect your tax credits and you may not be better off.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

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