30 hours of free childcare scheme for working parents – everything you need to know

30 hours of free childcare

by Anna Penniceard |
Updated on

There are many factors to think about when considering returning to work after having children and many parents rely on the Government's 30 hours of free childcare scheme. Following the recent budget announcements, this scheme will soon be changing to help out more parents keen to get back to work.

While previously the 30 hours of free childcare was only available for 3 and 4-year-olds, the Government have now listened to campaigners, experts and mums and realised this needs extending. That's why the scheme is changing to become available to children from 9 months old. We've rounded up everything you need to know about the new rules from when it's coming into force to how you can claim it.

What free childcare is available currently?

Currently, working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week during school term time (over 38 weeks) in England.

Additionally, parents claiming Universal Credit can get help with childcare costs as they may be eligible to claim up to 85% of their childcare costs back.

What's the new plan?

• Eligible working parents of two-year-olds will get 15 hours of free childcare per week from April 2024

• Children between nine months and two years old will get 15 hours of free childcare from September 2024

• All eligible under-5s will get 30 hours of free childcare from September 2025

Who is eligible for the new scheme?

The chancellor says the eligibility criteria will stay the same as they are under the current arrangements for three and four-year-olds. Parents are eligible if they work more than 16 hours a week and neither they nor their partner earns over £100,000.

Who will be eligible?

All parents in the household must be working a minimum of the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the National Minimum Wage (NMW). This means parents don’t necessarily have to work 16 hours, but their income must reflect at least 16 hours of work at the current NMW (currently £115 a week). Each individual parent must also earn less than £100,000. Lone parents will be eligible as long as they are also working the equivalent of a minimum of 16 hours per week at the NMW. Parents must live in England as the scheme is only available there.

Why is it taking so long?

For many parents, this change doesn't help them with the current financial struggles they're facing right now, with 2024 still a long way away in terms of personal finances in the cost-of-living crisis.

Some campaigners however do agree that the staged introduction of the changes and the date of 2024 is needed to avoid overwhelming childcare workers and help boost child carer numbers. Another announcement made by the Chancellor was that the government has offered a £600 one-off sign-up bonus to childcare workers to encourage workers into the childcare sector. This is a positive step for families struggling to get a nursery place due to nurseries being short-staffed.

How to apply

If you're thinking about applying to a nursery soon, then you'll want to apply for the free childcare too. Parents in England can apply for the 30 hours of free childcare on the Government website. Here you'll find when to apply and who is eligible, with the whole application process taking around 30 minutes.

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