Top ten things to know
Since September 2017, the Government has been increasing the number of free hours from 15 to 30 per week, for children of working families who meet the eligibility criteria.
Eligible children are able to receive up to 1,140 hours of free childcare a year. We asked our Children and Families team what parents need to know about the extended entitlement.
From September 2017, many three and four-year-olds in the county are eligible for an additional 15 hours of childcare, giving them up to 30 free hours per week in total, until they start school. This complements the ‘universal’ offer that is provided to all three and four year olds.
The first 15 hours per week (‘universal offer’) are available to all children who are three or four years old, the term after their birthday, regardless of their parents’ working status. However, for a child to be eligible for the extra hours:
- Both their parents must be working, or
- One parent meets the income criteria, while the other is unable to work due to disability, have caring responsibilities or have been assessed as having limited capacity to work
- Each parent must be earning the equivalent to 16 hours or more per week at the National Minimum or Living Wage (approx. £120 for an adult aged 25 or older)
- Neither parent can be earning more than £100,000 per year
- If one or both parents is a non-EEU national, the parent applying must be eligible for state-funded financial assistance
If a parent is under 18, has recently become self employed, or is an apprentice, different thresholds apply. More details are available on the Government’s Childcare Service website.
The child must be cared for by an approved childcare provider who is on the early years register. Search online for registered child care in your area using Hampshire County Council’s Family Information Directory.
If your child is already in childcare and you intend to increase their hours with their current provider, it’s a good idea to let your provider know as early as possible.
In total, the funding covers 1,140 free hours per year. If a child is only in childcare during the school term time, they will have up to 30 free hours per week. If they attend childcare all year round, including school holidays, the funding amounts to 22 hours per week. (This is based on 51 weeks, as many childcare providers close for a week at Christmas).
The provider will charge the parents for any additional hours the child is with them each week. Most childcare providers will invoice parents monthly or termly, allowing the costs to be spread evenly through the year.
The funding does not cover meals, snacks, items such as nappies or sun cream (known as ‘consumables’), or trips out. So if providers offer these, they may charge for these. Providers must tell parents of these charges and publish details.
Parents can continue to receive childcare vouchers or Tax-Free Childcare while claiming 30 hours free child care. Check the Government's Childcare Calculator to see the full list of benefits that can be claimed alongside the scheme.
To apply, parents need to register online with the Government’s Childcare Service. Online applications are administered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service (HMRC).
Parents then receive a ‘30 hours eligibility code’ to give to their chosen childcare provider. The provider will then confirm the family’s eligibility by checking with Hampshire County Council. When this is complete, the childcare provider and the family can arrange a start date.Parents applying for 30 hours free childcare eligibility codes should be aware that, due to the level of applications, there have been issues with the Childcare Choices website, and some parents are experiencing a wait of approximately 10-15 days to receive their code. HMRC are working to solve these issues and process the applications. If parents are experiencing difficulties with their application they must contact the Childcare Choices helpline on 0300 123 4097. The helpline is open 7 days a week.
Every three months, HMRC will ask parents to reconfirm their working status. If a parent stops working, the child can continue to have the additional free hours until the parent is asked to reconfirm their working status by HMRC. There will also be a ‘grace period’ after reconfirming.
9. Hampshire County Council’s website offers guidance on choosing the right childcare for your needs
The County Council’s online guide ‘Choosing quality childcare and early years education' offers help when looking for child care, including lists of questions to ask when interviewing providers.
There are a number of other Government initiatives to help parents with childcare costs, particularly for families with low incomes, or where parents are in education. Some employers also offer support, such as subsidised childcare at the workplace, or childcare vouchers. Hampshire County Council’s online guide Help with paying for child care explains options that may be available to help reduce your child care costs, depending on your circumstances.