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What kind of childcare assistance might my employer offer?
Onsite nurseries – this is where the employer provides a nursery at your place of work and is the kind of facility that tends to be offered by larger employers. Workplace nurseries have high start-up costs and some employers may offer staff subsidised places to make the childcare more affordable. Workplaces nurseries may not be the first choice of all parents, particularly those who don’t fancy the daily commute alongside their baby or toddler, and you may prefer to find childcare nearer to where you live.
Partnership schemes – this is where the employer buys a number of places with a childcare provider or nursery near the workplace. A large employer or group of smaller employers may set up a nursery for their employees to use. Demand for places at on-site nurseries and partnership schemes is usually high, so it makes sense to put your name down for a place as soon as you can.
Out-of-school care – this can operate in a similar way to partnership schemes, but is where the employer buys places with childcare providers before and after school, so that employees’ children of a relevant age can attend breakfast and after-school clubs. Some may even provide care during the school holidays, which can prove a particularly hard time for employees to get childcare cover. Some employers have found that the demand among their workforce for such childcare support is so great that they offer holiday or after-school schemes on the site of the workplace.
Childcare vouchers – this is where the employer offers all employees the option of taking vouchers on top or instead of a portion of their salary. These vouchers are free of tax and National Insurance Contributions up to a limit linked to the amount of income tax you pay (the rules are different if you began getting childcare vouchers before 6 April 2011) and can be used to pay for registered childcare. For basic rate taxpayers, the weekly tax free limit is £55 (£243 per month). Childcare vouchers can affect your entitlement to tax credits.
If you are a temporary agency worker, your employer must give you the same access to collective facilities such as crèches or breastfeeding facilities as it gives to its directly employed workforce. You do not need any service to claim this right. You have it from the first day of your assignment.
Your employer is not obliged to continue providing childcare vouchers that are paid to you under a salary sacrifice scheme during your maternity leave, unless you have a contractual right to carry on receiving the vouchers while on leave. This was confirmed in a ruling of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2016, in the case of Peninsula Business Services v Donaldson.