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25 Feb 2019

Parents: are you missing out on financial support you're entitled to?

From tax-free childcare to shared parental leave, these are the benefits all parents should know about - but many don't

While there are several government schemes to help new and expectant parents meet costs, awareness of these benefits is surprisingly low, our recent family finance survey suggests.

In January 2019, Which? Birth Choice asked over 1,000 parents with children aged two and under about whether they'd heard of a range of schemes and entitlements before having their baby.

Notably, just one in five were aware of the £500 Sure Start Maternity Grant (or, in Scotland, the £600 Pregnancy and Baby Payment) - and only three in ten had heard of Healthy Start vouchers.

We also found that four in ten didn't know about free NHS prescriptions for mothers in England (they're free for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), while around a third were unaware of free NHS dental care available across the UK during pregnancy and for a year after your baby is born.

Financial support and benefits for families - find out everything you need to know about your eligibility for benefits and schemes including Healthy Start vouchers and child benefit.

Are working parents exploring all their options?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of parents had heard of statutory maternity or paternity pay and leave. However, only around half of parents had heard of shared parental leave and pay.

Since 5 April 2015, parents have been able to share leave following the birth or adoption of their child. Shared parental leave can last up to 52 weeks, and pay is paid for up to 39 weeks. Parents can also split leave in blocks with periods of work in between.

Help with childcare costs

Less than four in ten (37%) parents had heard of tax-free childcare before having their baby. This was launched in April 2017, and replaces the childcare voucher scheme (closed to new claimants as of 4 October 2018).

Recent government data on the take-up rate of tax-free childcare chimes with our findings. While the government had budgeted for 415,000 families to be using it by October 2017, only 91,000 used it in December 2018.

With tax-free childcare, the government pays 25% of your childcare costs (so long as the provider is approved) via an online account, up to £500 every three months for each of your children - so it's definitely worth signing up for if you're eligible.

Which? Money's article on tax-free childcare and other ways to save helps parents to quickly discover the options to help fund childcare.

How else can I save money?

As well as making sure you're receiving the financial support you're entitled to, there are plenty of things you can do as a parent - or expectant parent - to help cut costs.

Five tips for saving money:

  • Stick to the essentials when buying baby products - don't just buy everything you think you may need.
  • Consider buying second-hand, but do check for any safety issues before parting with your cash.
  • Try to avoid doing your grocery shopping at 'express' stores - convenience comes at a price.
  • Reduce household bills by switching to the cheapest energy deal on the market (you may be surprised how quick this is to do).
  • Use your local Sure Start centre to find cheap parent-and-baby activities.

For more information on all of the above - and other pointers - take a look at our money-saving tips for expectant parents as well as budgeting advice for new parents.