Childcare vouchers are a type of employer-supported childcare (ESC) scheme. This page explains who can claim childcare vouchers.
Content on this page:
Your employer may give you vouchers that you can use to pay for childcare. Your employer can provide childcare vouchers in two ways:
- You can receive childcare vouchers on top of your normal pay.
- Your employer may ask you to give up part of your pay to buy the childcare vouchers. This is called a salary sacrifice arrangement.
Your employer will normally use a childcare voucher company who will provide you with either paper vouchers or an online account with electronic vouchers. You use these vouchers to pay your childcare provider. Check the website of the childcare voucher company your employer uses, for more information as to their exact arrangements.
You do not pay tax and National Insurance on the value of the vouchers up to certain limits. If you receive vouchers worth more than set limits, you will pay tax and National Insurance on the extra amount. You can find out more about how the tax relief works on vouchers on our ESC benefits page.
Changes from 4 October 2018
The tax and National Insurance (NIC) relief associated with childcare vouchers (and directly-contracted childcare) was withdrawn for brand new applicants from 4 October 2018.
Those who had not already signed up for childcare vouchers previously must have applied for the vouchers and received their first voucher by their last payday before 4 October 2018 in order to continue receiving vouchers.
To continue to be entitled to the tax and NIC relief on vouchers from 4 October 2018 you must be an ‘eligible’ employee which means meeting certain conditions:
- Condition A: You were employed by your employer before 4 October 2018 and have not ceased to be employed by them on or after that date
- Condition B: There has been a period of 52 tax weeks ending on or after 4 October 2018 which has not included at least one tax week where a voucher has been provided
- Condition C: is that you have not given your employer a Childcare Account Notice in order to claim tax-free childcare.
Condition B is quite complicated, but our understanding is that if you did not receive a childcare voucher in any of the 52 tax weeks up to 4 October 2018, then you cannot apply for vouchers after that date. If you did receive a voucher in that period, you can continue to receive vouchers or ask your employer to start them again, as long as there has not been a gap of more than 52 tax weeks since you received your last voucher.
So if, for example, you have to stop receiving vouchers while you are on maternity leave (see paragraph below about maternity leave), you will be able to resume vouchers on your return to work so long as you are returning to the same employer and have not gone 52 consecutive tax weeks without receiving a voucher.
Similar rules apply for directly contracted childcare.
Employers and childcare vouchers
Employers do not have to offer their workers childcare vouchers, it is entirely their choice. However, they may save employer National Insurance contributions by doing so.
If they do choose to offer childcare vouchers then the vouchers must be available to all staff (except those who are unable to join because it would reduce their earnings below the national minimum wage or national living wage for those aged 25 and over).
Qualifying for childcare vouchers
Before 4 October 2018, where an employer offered childcare vouchers, all their employees could claim them. But, as noted above, new joiners to existing schemes from 4 October 2018 cannot get the benefit of tax and national insurance relief on childcare vouchers through employer schemes, although employers may leave the schemes running for existing members.
If vouchers are offered through a salary sacrifice arrangement (meaning you give up some of your salary to get the vouchers), the arrangement cannot reduce your cash pay below the relevant national minimum wage or national living wage rates.
If you are paid slightly more than the minimum wage, it is important to keep an eye out for any changes to the minimum wage rates. This is because a rise in the minimum wage rate could affect your ability to salary sacrifice.
For example: Neena, 38, works for a university as a cleaner. She generally works around 35 hours a week x £11.00 an hour (except in the holidays when there is no work, but this suits her as she has children to look after).
With the minimum wage rate for her circumstances being £10.42 from April 2023, Neena would only be able to sacrifice around £20.30 of her pay for childcare vouchers, saving her £6.50 (£4.06 in tax and £2.44 in national insurance).
Other qualifying conditions
If you meet the conditions in place from 4 October 2018, you can claim vouchers if you pay for qualifying childcare and the child is:
- your child and you maintain them at your expense (wholly or partly); or
- your stepchild and you maintain them at your expense (wholly or partly); or
- a child who lives with you and you have parental responsibility for them.
This means that both parents can potentially claim vouchers and benefit from the tax and national insurance savings.
The tax and National Insurance savings are a maximum amount – they apply no matter how many children you have.
Child age limits
You can claim vouchers for a child until the last day of the week in which falls the 1 September following the child’s 15th birthday. This is extended to the 1 September following their 16th birthday if the child is disabled.
A child is disabled for childcare voucher purposes if:
- disability living allowance, child disability payment (disability assistance in Scotland) or personal independence payment is payable in respect of them (or has ceased only because he/she is a patient in a hospital) or
- the child is certified as severely sight impaired or blind by a consultant ophthalmologist (or has ceased to be certified within the previous 28 weeks).
Childcare vouchers and periods of leave
There are some things to be aware of if you are taking certain periods of leave from work and you are claiming childcare vouchers.
Childcare vouchers and statutory pay
If you receive statutory pay, such as statutory maternity pay or statutory sick pay, this cannot be reduced by a salary sacrifice for childcare vouchers. See below for further information on maternity leave.
Childcare vouchers and maternity leave
Childcare vouchers were thought to be an employer-provided non-cash benefit. Such benefits provided under a contract of employment must continue to be provided whilst an employee is absent from work on maternity leave. The generally accepted view therefore used to be that employers should bear the cost of providing the vouchers during maternity leave, where there was not enough pay available to operate the sacrifice arrangement.
However, following a decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT), the position is no longer so clear cut. In this EAT case, it was found that childcare vouchers had potentially been incorrectly assumed to be a non-cash benefit, and argued that as a ‘salary sacrifice’ benefit, childcare vouchers are in fact remuneration, which the law does not require employers to continue to pay.
Our understanding is that there is generally no longer a requirement for employers to fund childcare vouchers for an employee on maternity leave.
To keep receiving childcare vouchers whilst you are on maternity leave, a deduction can be made by way of salary sacrifice from any enhanced maternity pay you receive, over and above the statutory amount or from any payment you receive for ‘keeping in touch’ days.
You can also receive childcare vouchers as a salary addition whilst on maternity leave (rather than a salary sacrifice), but that depends on your employer being willing to offer them on top of your statutory pay.
Returning to work – re-joining the scheme
You will be able to resume vouchers on your return to work so long as you are returning to the same employer and have not gone 52 consecutive tax weeks without receiving a voucher.
‘Catching up’ after a period of leave
You may be able to sacrifice salary a greater amount in the portion of the tax year when you are back at work to ‘catch up’ for the vouchers not received when you were on maternity leave. The following example shows how this can work:
Other breaks in receiving vouchers
The rules allowing individuals to ‘catch up’ on vouchers is not specific to maternity leave.
It could also apply to employees that take a short break from receiving vouchers for whatever reason, or employees that have a period of unpaid leave (for example, a career break). However the same considerations apply if you are considering this. You should speak to your employer.
Other consequences of taking childcare vouchers
Taking childcare vouchers as part of a salary sacrifice arrangement involves altering your work contract to give up a portion of your earnings. This may affect future calculations of pensions, redundancy pay, statutory maternity pay, paternity pay, shared parental pay, parental or bereavement pay. You should get advice on these employment law aspects before deciding to take vouchers, so that you fully understand how they may affect you in the future.
Interaction with directly-contracted childcare
You cannot receive directly-contracted childcare and childcare vouchers in the same week.
Interactions with other schemes
Getting childcare vouchers may affect other childcare support you may be able to claim and certain benefits you are claiming. We explain more about this on our interactions with other schemes page.