If you know that you will have to return to work after Maternity Leave, you will need to use a nursery or childminder, and your employer offers the vouchers, register for Childcare vouchers with your employer AS SOON as your baby is born.
Your Employer will pay the Childcare vouchers whilst you are on Maternity Leave. Don’t wait until you return to work because you could miss out on an awful lot of money. If you register for childcare vouchers as soon as your child is born, and request the full amount (£243 a month), you could rack up £2187 in vouchers for the 9 months you are on maternity leave, or £2916 for the full year.
Even if you plan on handing your notice in at the end of your maternity leave, you should still register for the vouchers as I think they are valid for up to 18 months after you leave your employment. If you find a childminder that takes childcare vouchers you will be able to use the vouchers as and when you need childcare for the following 18 months. Handy if you need an afternoon or a day off occasionally as you won’t have to pay for the childcare!
If your employer doesn’t offer childcare vouchers there is some guidance from the HMRC website about this: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/calcs/ccin.htm. This link also includes a link to a PDF with details about what childcare vouchers are.
Obviously, I’m not an expert on these things and you will need to double check with your employer as I am only basing this on my experience. It’s definitely something worth investigating though.