If you have a young child you may be able to get 30 hours free childcare a week. How does it work?
Free childcare in the UK
Access to free childcare is a devolved issue, which means that parents are entitled to different amounts of free childcare depending on whereabouts in the UK they live.
30 hours’ free childcare in England
The government has increased the amount of free childcare available to three and four year olds from 15 hours a week to 30 hours’ free childcare a week during the term time, which is 38 weeks a year. This means you could be entitled to 1,140 hours a year of free childcare.
Yorkshire Building Society estimate that parents could save over £210 a month on childcare costs, based on average full-time childcare being £963 a month.
SAVVY TIP: The introduction of 30 hours of free childcare has caused controversy as some nursery providers feel that the amount they are being paid by the government to deliver the care will not cover their costs. This could mean that parents face higher costs and that nurseries could close.
30 hours of free childcare a week is available to all parents earning less than £100,000 a year each, and who earn at least £120 a week or work more than 16 hours at the National Living Wage (unless you became self-employed less than 12 months ago), or each expect to earn at least £113 a week or work more than 16 hours at the National Minimum Wage (unless you became self-employed less than 12 months ago).
The rules are different if you’re under 18, aged 18-20 or if you’re an apprentice (either under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship).
You may also be eligible if you are taking paid maternity or paternity leave, sick leave or are away from England for up to six months, for example if you are on duty with the military.
SAVVY TIP: You can claim the free childcare once your child turns three, but the date they can start getting free childcare depends on their birth date.
When you can start claiming:
- If your child turns three between January 1st and March 31st, you can claim free childcare in the term beginning on or after April 1st.
- If your child turns three between 1st April and 31st August, you can claim free childcare in the term starting on or after 1st September.
- If your child turns three between 1st September and 31st December, you can claim free childcare in the term starting on or after 1st January.
What kind of childcare can I use in England? Your child can get free childcare in a nursery, from a registered childminder, or from playgroups, club and pre-school in registered schools.
SAVVY TIP: parents will have to reconfirm that they are still eligible to receive the 30 hours free childcare every three months. You will be reminded four weeks before the deadline. If you give false information about your eligibility, you could be fined up to £3000.
How to apply for 30 hours free childcare
You can apply for 30 hours free childcare via the gov.uk website. You’ll need to provide yours and your partners (if you have one) details, including your:
- National Insurance number
- Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR), if you’re self-employed
The application takes 20 minutes and you’ll find out if you’re eligible as part of your application. If your application is successful, you’ll get a childcare account which you can use to get your code for 30 hours free childcare.
In Northern Ireland
If you have a three or four year old child, you’re entitled to 2.5 hours a day (or 12.5 hours a week) of free pre-school learning during the term time for each child, five days a week. Overall you’re entitled to 475 hours of free pre-school learning a year.
If you have a three or four year old child, you’re entitled to 600 hours of free childcare throughout the year for each child, which works out at almost 16 hours a week of free childcare during the term time.
What kind of free childcare can my child use in Scotland? Your child can get a place in a local authority nursery school, a nursery class in a primary school, a local authority or private day nursery, an independent school nursery, a playgroup or a registered childminder.
The Welsh government have just announced that they are also going to offer 30 hours a week of free early education and childcare during the term time for each three and four year old child, for 48 weeks of the year. However, this isn’t available to all Welsh residents yet. The Welsh government says they’ll be testing this in some local authorities from September 2017, which will be followed by a wider roll-out across Wales.
SAVVY TIP: Contact your local council to find out what free childcare is available. Use the Gov.uk free childcare finder to start your search.
Do any two-year-olds get free childcare?
Free childcare for two-year-olds is currently on offer in various parts of England, but it is means tested. In order to qualify, the rules say:
To get free childcare for a two-year-old, parents living in England must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
- Child Tax Credit and/or Working Tax Credit and have an annual income under £16,190 before tax
- the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit. the guarantee element guarantees a minimum level of income if you’re eligible for the state pension and on a low income
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (this is the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
- Universal Credit
Children are also entitled to a place if:
- they’re looked after by a local council
- they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education health and care plan
- they get Disability Living Allowance
- they’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order
SAVVY TIP: If your child is eligible, you can start claiming free childcare after they turn two. The date you can claim will depend on when their birthday is (as with children aged three or four).
The situation is slightly different in Scotland, although some two-year-olds have been entitled to free childcare since 2014. As before, this help is means tested. The parent or carer must receive one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Jobseeker’s Allowance (income based)
- Employment and Support Allowance (income based)
- Incapacity or Severe Disablement Allowance
- State Pension Credit
or if the child is:
- Looked after
- Under a kinship care order
- With a parent-appointed guardian
SAVVY TIP: The rules say that once a child becomes entitled to extra hours, they will still be entitled even if their parent or carer becomes employed or their situation with their parent or carer changes.
There’s lots of information about free childcare in Scotland on the Scottish Families Information Service website.
You can find information about applying for a pre-school place in Northern Ireland on the NIDirect.gov.uk website.
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