This September will see the amount of free childcare in England doubling to 30 hours per week. But what exactly will parents be entitled to and how will it work?

What free childcare hours can I get?

Many working parents of children aged 3 to 4 years will be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare per week. Fifteen hours of free early education per week will still be available under the current rules.

However, parents will only qualify for the additional free children for 38 weeks per year – the equivalent to school term times. Depending on your childcare facility, it may be possible to use fewer hours of free childcare per week and spread them out over a longer period.

Am I eligible for free childcare?

The rules on who can receive the 30 hours of free childcare are:

  • You must live in England
  • Your child must be aged 3 or 4 years old when the scheme starts in your region
  • Both parents must be working.
  • In lone parent families, the single parent must be working.
  • Each parent’s average earnings must be at least the equivalent to 16 hours per week at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage rate (currently £115.20 for an adult aged over 25).
  • Each parent must earn no more than £100,000 per year

I don’t work. Can I still apply for the extra 15 hours free childcare?

In families where one or both parents are not working, they will usually not be eligible for the additional hours. However, exceptions are made for parents who are on parental, maternity, paternity, adoption or sick leave.

How do I apply for the 30 hours of free childcare?

You’ll can apply for the 30-hour childcare scheme through an online application being developed by HMRC. This will be a joint application with the Tax-Free Childcare scheme.

Will all nurseries and childminders offer additional hours?

While most will attempt to offer parents the full 30 hours, not all will be able to do so.

The nursery industry has shared concerns that the grant supplied by the Government will not cover the full cost of the scheme. This means that nurseries may opt out of the scheme or choose to ask parents to make up the shortfall by paying for their child’s lunches or making a weekly voluntary donation.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, commented: “The Department for Education has been clear that the whole point of restricting the scheme to ‘working families’ is to encourage parents to go back to work, yet they don’t seem to have factored even the most modest of adjustments into their figures, such as parents working a few more hours to become eligible.”

Speak to your child’s current or intended childcare facilitator to find out whether they will be taking part in the scheme.

You can read the full report on the Department for Education’s plans for the 30 free hours of childcare here.