ALL 3 and 4 year olds (children become eligible the term after their 3rd birthday) and some 2 year olds are entitled to receive 15 free nursery hours over 38 weeks, a total of 570 free childcare hours. This is usually taken as 15 hours over 38 weeks of the year, although some childcare providers offer other models of delivery.
30 free nursery hours for 3 and 4 year olds
From September 2017 the Government have introduced a new system that enables eligible families of 3 and 4 year olds to access 30 free nursery hours over 38 weeks, a total of 1140 per year.
Managing childcare costs effectively
Childcare providers are delivering these hours in different ways. Some over the 38 weeks and some are offering a stretched offer – stretching these hours over the year so less hours per week but over more weeks of the year (i.e. 24 hours per week over 48 weeks, 22 hours over 52 weeks etc.) This will hopefully enable working parents to manage childcare costs more effectively.
Parents need to check their eligibility through the Childcare Choices website and if eligible you will be issued with a 10-digit code. This code should be given to your chosen childcare provider (or providers) who will then access the funding.
Are you eligible for 30 free nursery hours?
You can usually get 30 free nursery hours if you (and your partner, if you have one) are:
- in work – or getting parental leave, sick leave or annual leave.
- each earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week. This is £120 if you’re aged over 25.
This earnings limit doesn’t apply if you’re self-employed and started your business less than 12 months ago.
You’re not eligible if:
- your child doesn’t usually live with you
- the child is your foster child
- either you or your partner has a taxable income over £100,000
You can get 30 free nursery hours at the same time as claiming Universal Credit, tax credits or childcare vouchers.
If you can’t work you may still be eligible if your partner is working, and you get Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.
The number of hours worked is less important than the money earned, so a high-earning parent could be working only a few hours per week and still be eligible.
Self-employed parents and parents on zero-hours contracts will be eligible if they meet the average earnings criteria. Newly self-employed parents do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months.
Families where one parent is not in paid employment (or neither parent works) will usually not be eligible for 30 hours. There are exceptions for parents who are on parental, maternity, paternity, adoption or sick leave. Parents who are studying or in training will not be eligible unless this is combined with paid work, which meets the minimum average earnings threshold.
However, parents will be eligible where one parent is in receipt of benefits relating to caring responsibilities or serious disability and the other parent is working. Single parents who are disabled or have substantial caring responsibilities will not be eligible.
If parents are separated, eligibility requirements will apply to the parent with whom the child ‘normally lives’, and any partners of parents will also be required to meet them.
If either parent is a non-EEA national, they must not be subject to immigration control and have recourse to public funds.
As with the universal 15-hour entitlement, children become eligible the term after they turn three.
Childcare providers can charge for extra services like meals and activities and these costs and charges should be made clear on registration.
Once you’re registered for the scheme, you will need to reconfirm your eligibility every three months by logging into your Childcare Services account.
The government will send you a reminder text message or email ahead of the deadline. Failing to complete it could result in your care being withdrawn.
If you’re caught giving out false information about your eligibility, you could also be fined up to £3,000.
If you no longer meet the eligibility criteria, your child’s 30-hour place will continue to be funded for a ‘grace period’. You should discuss this with your provider to find out what time frame you qualify for, the grace period ensures the child’s best interests are taken into account.
You will still be able to receive the universal 15 hours of free childcare for all three- and four-year-olds even if you are no longer eligible for the extended entitlement.
For children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) there will be two means of increasing the amount of funding that providers may receive, these are the
Disability Access Fund – an annual automatic up-front payment of £615 for providers for every child in their setting in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and eligible for a funded place;
SEN Inclusion Fund – mandatory local authority-run funds will provide additional top-up funding to providers to improve outcomes for children with special educational needs based on eligibility criteria drawn up by the authority.
If you are caring for children with SEND, contact your local authority for more information about how you can access these funding streams. It will be up to providers to identify eligible children and refer them to their local authority to check eligibility.
The Government has estimated that around 390,000 three- and four-year-olds (42%) will be eligible for the full 30-hours entitlement, and that 90,000 new childcare places will be needed.
The Government also estimates that take-up is likely to be high – around 80% – in the first year.
All 3 and 4 year-olds – and the 40% most disadvantaged 2 year olds – will remain entitled to 570 hours of early education per year (15 hours per week during term time), regardless of the employment status or earnings of their parents.
Children will no longer be eligible for 30 hours once they are in a full-time reception place or reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday) – whichever comes first.
If you have any questions regarding accessing either the 15 or 30 free nursery hours available then please contact me on 01636 378040.