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30 Hours of Free Childcare Explained: Do You Qualify?

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Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past year, you would have heard about the 30 hours of free childcare being rolled out by the Government across England this year, and you can now pre-register.


Currently, all 3 and 4-year-olds are eligible for 570 hours of free childcare a year – which is 15 hours each week over 38 weeks of the year. Many settings accept the funding including but not exclusive too:

  • Nurseries and Nursery classes
  • Playgroups and pre-school
  • Childminders
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres


Plus, depending on your personal circumstances, some 2-year-olds in England are entitled to free childcare. In order claim, you must be getting one of the following:

  • 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
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
  • Universal Credit
  • Be referred by a health professional


So What’s All This Doubling Childcare Talk About?

If you’re a working parent with a 3 or 4-year old in England, you may be eligible for 30 free hours of childcare, instead of the current 15.

While this may sound amazing, like everything, there is a big catch.

The 30 free hours only applies to 38 weeks per year, not the full 52 weeks of the year. So basically it’s equal to school term times and adds up to 1140 free hours across a whole year.

Depending on your setting (a nursery, preschool or registered child-minder), you may be able to spread these across further weeks, but that means you won’t get 30 hours every week, it would be stretched over the 52 weeks of the year.


Will My Child Get It?

Maybe, but not everyone is eligible. Regardless of if you qualify for the 30 hours or not, you will still be entitled to the current 15 free hours of childcare.

Eligibility for 30 hours’ free childcare:

  • Your child must be aged 3 or 4 when the scheme starts in your area
  • Both of you must be working – or you, as a single parent.
  • You must both earn, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage. (See below.)
  • Have an annual income of less than £100,000 each.
  • Live in England


When Does It start?

September 2017 is the set roll out date, with 8 current pilots schemes currently running already in: Wigan, Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire, Dorset, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets.


How Do I Apply?

Pre-registering is required on the website. You’ll need to confirm some personal details, and they will then email you with the details on how and when to apply.

More information can also be found on Childcare Choices website set up by HMRC. This gives further information about the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme and includes a childcare calculator so you can compare your different options.

To make sure your child receives the 30 free hours, you must:

Apply online through the Government childcare service. This takes about 20 minutes.

Check your current provider or new provider has allocated space for the scheme

If you do qualify, you’ll then receive a code. This is for your chosen childcare provider or council, who will then offer your child a free place.


Am I Eligible?

You must be earning equivalent to 16 hours at the National Minimum Wage.

Now, that all depends on your age.

Currently, for a parent aged 21-24, you’d need to earn a weekly average of at least £111.20. For a parent aged 25+, you’d need to earn a weekly average of at least £115.20.


What if one parent in a couple isn’t working?

If one, or both of you don’t work, then you are not usually eligible for the extra 15 hours.

If, however, one of you isn’t working because you’re an official carer (eg receiving benefits relating to being a carer) or you are receiving disability benefits, and your partner is working, then the Government has stated it “intends to make a provision” for you.

This is also the case if you are on statutory sick pay or are provisionally away from the workplace, for example on compassionate leave.


What if you I’m self-employed or on a zero hours contract?

You will be eligible if you (or both of you in a couple) earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours at the National Minimum Wage, and be able to prove this through HMRC.

What if one parent loses their job?

There’s a short “grace period” – although this hasn’t been confirmed.

Will all settings be offer free 30 hours?

Hopefully, but there has recently been a lot of concern within the childcare industry about the Government not paying enough to cover costs.

According to educational charity the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the true cost to provide the childcare is typically £4.53 per hour. For the pilot schemes, the Government is allocating £4 an hour. This has risen from the £3.88 that they planned on spending.


Does free childcare really mean free?

Well yes, technically, but like most things, the shortfalls will have to be picked up by us, the parents, in form of the “added extras.”

These could include asking for contributions towards food costs, lunch time, sometimes called wrap around care or basically just asking for help towards new toy or activity costs.

One pre-school close to me in Southampton commented that they would “have to charge for food that they normally offer for free, as the 30 hours funding from the Government just isn’t enough.”

Another hinted that they may charge parents of under 2s more, to help subsidise the care of older children.

They could also offer the 30 free hours on a term by term basis, asking parents to reapply for their child’s free place at the end of each term. Meaning that no day is guaranteed or allocated for the following term, putting extra strain on parents who don’t have flexible working provisions.


Will every eligible child get 30 hours free childcare from September?

Again, the Government is hopeful but can’t guarantee a place for everyone. It’s a suplly and demand issue, with many councils saying that there is not enough registered childcare providers to meet demand.

A recent survey by the Family and Childcare Trust found that more than half of English councils were unsure if they will be able to provide enough childcare and only a third of the English councils are confident they’ll have enough places.

This was also accepted by the Government who said that, “It seems likely that the supply of places will will rise more slowly over the first two years than originally assumed.”


What about parents in full time education?

Again, this all comes down to how much you earn in a 3-month period. If you work on top of your studies and meet the income criteria of earning the equivalent of 16 hours a week at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming 3 months, then you qualify.

However, keep in mind that you cannot apply for the 30 hours free childcare in addition to accessing support through a Childcare Grant.


How about while maternity leave?

If you’re on maternity leave, you should still be eligible for 30 hours free childcare however, it is for HMRC to determine eligibility. Contact them as soon as you can to confirm if you still qualify. Better that then a bill further down the line!


What if one of us works and one is in full time education, receiving little or no student finance?

You may still be eligible.

If you work on top of your studies and you both meet the income criteria above, then you should still be eligible. However, you can’t take up the 30 free hours as well as the Childcare Grant.

I hope this has helped clear up some the questions you may have over the 30 free hour provision. If you do have any further questions, please leave us a comment below and we will try and answer it for you, or find someone who can!

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