The Childcare 30 Hours Government Funded Scheme Explained
One of the biggest headaches currently facing parents of young children is the cost of childcare. After having a baby and taking maternity or paternity leave, the issue of returning to work may be weighing heavily on your mind. Wondering who will take care of your child when you start working again and how you might pay for childcare may be at the forefront of your mind. You may be thinking about what help is available and whether you are entitled to claim free childcare.
The good news is that here in the UK free childcare is available, but certain conditions do apply. The bad news is that in most instances free childcare does not apply until your child reaches the age of three (although in certain circumstances, there is help with the cost of childcare for two-year-olds).
The even better news for some parents however is that the number of free childcare hours has been doubled to 30 in England. If you are entitled to help with the cost of childcare, 30 hours may be available per week depending on you meeting certain conditions.
Am I Eligible for the 30 Hours Childcare?
All children in England aged three to four are entitled to fifteen hours of free childcare per week. However, in September 2017, the Government introduced a further entitlement to thirty hours per week, providing certain criteria was met.
In order to satisfy the conditions to claim the childcare 30 hours, both you and your partner must be working and earning the equivalent of sixteen hours per week at either the minimum wage or the national living wage. If you are a single-parent family, you must meet these conditions as well. If one parent is earning more than £100,000, you will not be eligible for the childcare 30 hours.
If you are on a zero-hours contract and are meeting the earnings criteria, you are also eligible. The same is true for those who are self-employed.
In a two-parent family where one parent is not working, it is unlikely that you will be eligible. However, if you are not working because of being on maternity, paternity, parental, or adoption leave, an exception may be made.
How Do Parents Apply?
The Childcare Service will check your eligibility for the childcare 30 hours, and if you are successful, you will be provided with a code, which you can then present to your childcare provider.
Your childcare provider will use this code and validated it with the Eligibility Checking System. This must be done before your child can access 30 hours free childcare. The 30 hours can be claimed from the term immediately after your child’s third birthday or the term after the issue of the eligibility code, whichever is later.
You can apply for childcare help through the Government’s online childcare service. Alternatively, you could also call the childcare service on 0300 123 4097. You can apply up to sixteen weeks before your child’s third birthday and you must make your application in the term before you wish funding to start. Funding will come into effect in the term following your child’s third birthday (September, January, or April).
Cut-off dates for each term are midnight on 31st August for the September term, midnight on 31st December for the January term, and 31st March for the April term.
When applying for free childcare, you will need both your own and your partner’s (if you have one) National Insurance number, or your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) if you or your partner are self-employed. The process of applying typically takes around twenty minutes and you will probably find out there and then if you are eligible. Nonetheless, there are certain cases in which this procedure could take up to seven days for a decision.
Do All Providers Accept 30 Hours Childcare?
As well as meeting the earnings criteria above, you must also ensure that whoever is providing childcare for your child is registered with the relevant governing body. Approved childcare includes:
- registered childminder
- registered nursery
- registered playgroup
- registered club
- registered school
- childminder who is with a registered agency
- home care worker who is with a registered agency.
What you do need to be aware of though is the fact that not every provider is choosing to offer the childcare 30 hours because many say they simply cannot afford to. They have the choice to opt out if they wish, which could obviously affect parents hoping to avail of this doubled allowance.
Some childcare providers have admitted to facing a funding shortfall in terms of the cost of providing the childcare 30 hours with the amount they are receiving from their local authority. As such, many are simply choosing not to offer the additional allowance while others are asking parents to make up the difference by charging for extras that would have previously been included in the fee.
The Department for Education has forbidden childcare providers from offering the childcare 30 hours and then asking parents to pay extra on the hourly rate. Nevertheless, providers are getting around this by charging for meals or activities that they would have previously provided within the fee.
Due to the estimated shortfall in funding of around twenty per cent, only around sixty per cent of childcare providers have committed to providing it.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Working parents who can access the childcare 30 hours offer can benefit from being in a position to reduce their childcare tax bill. Instead of the previous funding for fifteen hours, many providers are now offering double the hours with funding from the Government.
This means extra money in the pockets of parents or the chance to extend their working day should they wish. Parents who do not have family members or friends to look after their children in the years before the kids start primary school can access these free hours, which will allow them to return to work.
While there are many benefits to working parents, there is a worry that simply doubling the funding may not do anything to address the quality of places that are provided. There is a big gap between the level of quality that is offered among various nurseries in the UK. Moreover, there is a belief that providing funding may lead to the gap widening, particularly as many nurseries say they cannot provide an adequate level of care with the funding they are receiving from the Government.