Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme – important information for parents

The Department of Education has yesterday (8 July 2024) published a Frequently Asked Questions document to provide answers to common questions about the package of early learning and childcare measures announced by Education Minister Paul Givan in May 2024.

The FAQs include what is known so far about each of the measures announced. As these are still in development, some operational details are not yet finalised and it is intended the FAQs will be updated on an ongoing basis with the latest information.

The FAQs are available here and to download from the top of this page. They contain information on each of the following (there is a separate FAQs for the expansion of the pre-school education programme, which is linked below):

Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme (NICSS) and Childcare Vouchers

The FAQs confirm much of what was already known about the Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme (NICSS) but also provide some new information. Importantly it has been confirmed that families who use Childcare Vouchers to help pay for their childcare will not be eligible for the additional support with childcare costs available through the NICSS. Eligibility for the NICSS is only for working parents who are eligible for (and using) Tax-Free Childcare, and who have a child/children below primary school age.

We know from our research that there are large numbers of parents in Northern Ireland who use Childcare Vouchers to support them with their childcare costs, including for children below school age, and who are better off using Childcare Vouchers than moving to Tax-Free Childcare. We presented this evidence to the Minister and officials within the Department of Education and it is disappointing that they have moved ahead with the scheme without including these families. We will continue to work on behalf of families in Northern Ireland to campaign for greater support with childcare costs that benefits all parents and children, as part of the new Early Learning and Childcare Strategy.

The FAQs also reconfirmed that parents in receipt of Universal Credit will not be eligible for the subsidy.

We would urge any parents who use Childcare Vouchers or Universal Credit, and who may be considering moving to Tax-Free Childcare to avail of the NICSS, to speak to our Family Benefits Advice Service before doing so to make sure it is the right move for their family. The Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme currently only has approval to run from September 2024 to March 2025 so parents should also consider their future childcare costs in making the decision about whether it is right for them to leave another scheme to join Tax-Free Childcare in order to benefit from the subsidy in the short-term. In particular, a decision to leave Childcare Vouchers and join Tax-Free Childcare is permanent and cannot be reversed.

Call 028 9267 8200 to speak to an advisor or email for free, impartial and confidential advice. We are the experts in childcare support for families, and can help you work out what form of support is best for your family, given your circumstances.

How the NICSS will work in practice?

The FAQs also confirm details of how the NICSS will work in practice. It is anticipated that childcare providers will reduce the normal fee charged to parents by 15% (the level of the subsidy). Their invoice should show the normal fee, the 15% subsidy and the final amount parents must pay. Parents can then obtain a further 20% contribution towards their reduced bill through Tax-Free Childcare and pay their provider in the usual way through their Tax-Free Childcare account.

Example below*:

Monthly fee normally charged by a provider £1,000
NICSS subsidy (15% of normal fee) deducted by provider £150
Reduced monthly fee charged by provider £850
Tax-Free Childcare discount claimed by parent (20% of £850) £170
Final cost of fees to parent £680

*Example provided by Department for Education – maximum cap on support through Tax-Free Childcare is £500 every three months so savings will vary depending on individual circumstances. 

Maximum cap on support

There will be a maximum monthly cap on the support that can be claimed per child under the NICSS, which will be monitored and kept under review. Details of this are currently being considered and will be made available in advance of the scheme’s launch.

Children in the Pre-School Education Programme (PSEP)

The NICSS can be used to claim for childcare costs for wraparound services outside of the PSEP, as long as parents meet the eligibility criteria. It cannot be used towards voluntary contributions charged by pre-school providers for children whose places are funded by the Education Authority through the Pre-School Education Programme.

What do parents need to do to claim the Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy?

Parents currently do not have to do anything to claim the subsidy. It will be administered through their childcare provider from September and further details will be made available before then.

Further information and advice

For further information and advice on the Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme, or any of the other additional support measures, contact the Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200 or email