With the current cost of living at an all-time high, the economic pressures on households are enormous. Now more than ever, both people in a relationship need to go to work. For people with children, this is potentially a problem.
Fortunately, those parents with children aged 3 and 4 can claim 30 hours of free childcare to get the support they need with childcare costs. And, thanks to the 2023 budget announcement, from April 2024 those with children aged 2 will also be able to claim 15 hours of free childcare.
If you have children coming up to these age groups, carry on reading to see how to claim help with childcare for your little ones.
- What Is the 30 Hours Free Childcare Scheme?
- Budget 2023 Announcement
- Who Is Eligible for 30 Hours of Free Childcare?
- How To Apply for Free Childcare
- Get Your Free Childcare Entitlement
What Is the 30 Hours Free Childcare Scheme?
The scheme was introduced in September 2017 to help working parents. It enables people with children who are aged 3 and 4 to obtain 30 hours of free childcare a week for 38 weeks of the year. These 38 weeks fall within school term times. If the parent opts to obtain child care for less than 30 hours a week, it may be possible to spread the free childcare for the remaining weeks of the year.
As well as helping parents, the scheme aims to assist with child development in the early years and to prepare them for primary school, which starts at the age of 5.
Each of the 4 home nations runs slightly different schemes. Make sure you click on these links to see how the free childcare scheme works in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. You can also check what other schemes are available for children in other age groups.
Free childcare is only available through approved childcare providers and childminders.
Budget 2023 Announcement
In the new budget announcement for 2023, the Chancellor of the Exchequer extended the scheme to include other age groups:
- Starting in April 2024, parents of 2-year-olds will be able to receive free childcare for 15 hours a week.
- From September 2024, 15 hours of free childcare will be available for all children from 9 months old.
- Finally, by September 2025, parents of all children under the age of 5 will receive 30 hours of child care.
This extension of the scheme is great news, in particular for working parents of children who have not started to attend nurseries.
Who Is Eligible for 30 Hours of Free Childcare?
There are some criteria that must be met for eligibility. Qualification is based on the following:
- Whether you are at work or not
- The age of your child and their circumstances
- The income earned by you and your partner (if you have one)
- Your immigration status
Your Work Situation
You can obtain 30 hours of help with childcare if you and your spouse or partner are working. Those on various forms of leave are also eligible. You’ll qualify if you are on annual, sick, adoption, maternity, or paternal leave.
Usually, both parents must be working to qualify. An exception is made if your partner is at work but you do not work and receive certain benefits. These benefits include carer’s allowance, contribution-based employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit, limited capability for work benefit, and severe disablement allowance. It’s also possible for Universal Credit benefit claimants to take advantage of the 30 hours of free childcare.
In the next 3 months, You and your partner are expected to earn the following amounts to qualify:
- £2,167 for those aged over 22
- £2,117 for those aged 21 or 22
- £1,557 for those aged 18 to 20
- £1,098 for those under 18 or working as an apprentice
These figures are based on minimum wage working 16 hours a week. You can use average annual earnings if you work all year round but do not receive regular payments. The same applies to self-employed people who will not receive sufficient payments in the next 3 months.
Not all types of income count. The types of income not considered include pension payments, dividends, and interest income from property investment. If you or your partner earn over £100,000 per annum, you are not eligible.
The Circumstances of Your Child
The qualified child must be 3 or 4 years old. Additionally, your child needs to live with you. If you are, for example, separated and your child lives with your former partner, they need to make the application.
To qualify, as well as having a NI number, you must meet one of the following:
- Possess British or Irish citizenship
- Have pre-settled or settled status
- Have access to public funds (it means your immigration status allows you to access benefits)
How To Apply for Free Childcare
To apply for free childcare for 3-year-olds, visit this government website. Be sure to include the details of your partner if you live together. Their income details will be taken into account. An exception is made if they are away from home for more than 6 months of the year or if they are in prison. If you and your partner are separated but are jointly responsible for the child, you should jointly decide who will apply.
When To Apply and When Can the Nursery Free Hours Start?
You should apply when the child is two years and thirty-six weeks old. The table below explains the situation in more detail.
|When does the child become 3 years old?
|When can the 30 hours of free childcare start?
|When to apply?
|1st of September to 31st December
|School term that begins after 1st January
|15th October to 30th November
|1st January to 31th March
|School term that begins after 1st April
|15 January to 28 February
|1st April to 31th August
|School term that begins after 1st September
|15 June to 31 July
Please note that due to the lack of offers, there are currently long waiting lists to enrol children in nurseries. We advise you to start looking for a place as soon as you can to avoid failing to secure a spot in the nursery of your choice.
What Happens After You Apply?
After the application, you will be given a code if you are successful. You must give the authorised childcare provider this code to claim your free childcare. You are required to apply for a code every 3 months. Through the code, the childcare provider will be able to recoup the funding costs from the government.
If you have any questions about the scheme, it is best to contact the HMRC. Their telephone number is 03001234097.
Get Your Free Childcare Entitlement
The current government-approved scheme enables parents to obtain free childcare for their children aged 3 and 4. Parents in the UK who work for at least 16 hours a week will qualify. Though government-supported childcare is running for children aged 3 and 4, the new budget announcement will extend eligibility to children younger than 3 from April 2024.