As Covid-19 restrictions ease and more people return to the workplace – remember to make your childcare arrangements in good time!

With the latest announcements about the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, many employees, particularly those in the retail and hospitality sectors, will be returning to work for the first time in a number of months. Others, who have been working from home, may be looking ahead to when they return to their place of work, whether on a full-time or phased / rota basis, as the Government message around ‘working from home’ slowly relaxes.

This means many parents will be faced with changing childcare requirements – from needing full-time childcare for younger children, to sourcing wraparound care for school age children where perhaps working from home, or being on furlough, facilitated school drop offs and pick ups.

New guidance from the Department of Education confirms that school breakfast and afterschool clubs and outdoor after-school sports can begin again.  Most other extra-curricular after school activities, with the exception of some outdoor sports, are still not permitted.

Childcare settings, including those based in schools and childminders continue to operate throughout this period.

Informal childcare is also permitted to continue. Informal childcare is valuable, trusted care provided by grandparents and close family. It is not to be confused with unregistered childcare, which is provided by those who are not formally registered but who charge a fee for their services, and is not legal.

Finding childcare

While registered childcare providers have been able to remain open in recent months, many have been operating at reduced capacity, through a combination of following the Covid-19 guidelines, impact of Covid-19 on staff or a drop in demand for places, as many parents were either working from home or on furlough from their employment.

However, even in advance of the reopening of major economic sectors like retail and hospitality, childcare providers of all types were reporting an increase in enquiries for both full and part time places and for holiday schemes. We know that access to childcare is vital for working parents – so if you anticipate using any form of registered childcare we would advise getting in touch with providers as soon as possible. You may need to confirm your plans with your existing provider in order to retain a space, or secure a place at a new provider.

The Family Support NI website has lots of useful information and the only search facility listing ALL registered childcare providers in Northern Ireland, to help you find registered childcare providers in your area.

Support with childcare costs

If you are starting to use childcare again, or changing to a different type of childcare, it’s important to know that most households, where the parents are working, are eligible for some form of support with registered childcare costs. So, whether your children are going to childcare for the first time or you are returning to work for the first time in a number of months, make sure you find out what support is available

If you haven’t accessed financial support for registered childcare costs before, you could benefit from Universal Credit or Tax-Free Childcare. Others may continue to access support through Tax Credits and Childcare Vouchers, or may be better off moving on to Universal Credit or Tax-Free Childcare. Remember, if you paused making payments into your Childcare Vouchers during Covid-19, it is important you make at least one payment into your account every 52 weeks, or you will no longer be eligible for this form of support.

We are here to help

Our Family Benefits Advice Service is here to help all parents identify what support they are entitled to. We are also here to help parents understand their rights and entitlements in terms of requesting flexible or family friendly working arrangements – just email your details to and the team will contact you to provide a personalised ‘better off’ calculation, based on your unique family circumstances.