30 hours free childcare won’t be what it says on the tin

The pledge to offer 30 hours of free childcare a week to working parents was music to the ears of many forced to choose between a career they love and being able to pay the bills.

For many women who want to find a way back to work after having a baby the numbers simply don’t add up. In my case if I had to put both my children into nursery five days a week I would be losing hundreds of pounds a month in order to work. That’s before any of my other bills had to be paid.

Working parents can already get 15 hours of free childcare a week once their child turns three. But this just doesn’t go far enough to make work pay for most people.

So I’m sure I’m not the only one excited at the prospect of 30 hours of free childcare from September this year. But how does it add up? How does it work? With my toddler turning three next year and becoming eligible for the funding from April 2018 I have now received the information from my nursery on how they are offering the scheme. What I’ve learned is it’s not quite as simple as receiving an invoice with 30 hours (or three days) subtracted from the final cost every week. Actually it’s not even offered every week.


For those curious as to how it might work for them I will explain how my nursery is offering the scheme. Obviously prices and schemes vary from nursery to nursery so it’s purely an example to give you an idea of what the reality of the government’s free childcare boast is.

  • Parents become eligible for 30 hours when both work over 16 hours a week and neither earns more than £100,000 a year. Your eligibility begins at the start of term after your child’s third birthday.
  • The nursery calculates this as 1,140 free hours per year.
  • Free hours only apply during term time.
  • The hours are spread over the year to 24 hours per week over 47.5 weeks
  • This is offered as eight hours funded a day (a day session at our nursery is 10 hours) for three days a week.
  • The remaining two hours of the day will cost £24.60 which includes meals. This adds up to a cost of £12.30 an hour.
  • The normal charge for a day at my nursery is £63, which is £6.30 an hour (so the nursery is charging double what it normally would on the free days).
  • Outside the 47.5 weeks charges revert to the normal £63 a day.

So 30 hours free childcare is an utterly inaccurate description of this scheme. With my eldest due to attend three days a week this should be free if this offer were what it appears. Instead it will be £73.80 a week for 47.5 weeks of the year then £189 a week for the rest. Not free then.

It’s not the nursery I blame for this at all. The government has completely underfunded the scheme and nurseries have to claw back the costs somehow or they would go bust.

I’m lucky that our nursery offers the extended 30 hours deal at all, as this is not compulsory and it is thought many nurseries will opt out of the scheme due to funding concerns. In a survey by the Department of Education one fifth of early years childcare providers said they wouldn’t be offering the 30 hours.

Our nursery generally puts its day fees up by £1 every year. So matters are only going to get worse. Luckily I have been able to arrange a flexible work pattern and enlist the help of grandparents so that my two will only need to be in nursery three days a week. This still means that without free childcare my monthly bill would be more than £1,900. Yikes!

Despite my annoyance that the 30 hours is not all it’s cracked up to be I am still glad my nursery bills will be somewhat less painful after April next year. Plus from what I hear it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what university is going to cost!

For more information and to apply for the 30 hours visit Childcare Choices

What do you think of the 30 hours scheme? Do you use the 15 free hours now? Has it helped you go back to work?


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  • I worked as a registered child minder many years ago and offered the then 15 hours a week of free child care, most parents would add to that by paying for extra hours, the paperwork this meant for me was unbelievable #brilliantblogs@_karendennis

  • We are very much in a similar position, I had twins and had to leave work due to childcare costs, I was excited about the 30 hours free. I have got myself a job in a school a few hours a day and now nursery say they don’t have enough term time only places left so we maybe lke you and have to have the 30 hours a week spread over 51 week a year. The term time places also costs £22.50 a week for the 30 hours because the government are underfunding #brillblogposts

  • It will be helpful for me. I work from home and can’t wait for littlest to turn 3 in March. At the moment I pay for 13 hours childcare, but really need more as it’s impossible to work with him in the afternoon, but too much to justify paying for more. We use a playgroup so it’s term time only anyway and they’re only open 24 hours as Mon/Fri are only morning sessions. I’ll be putting him in the full 24 hours next year and it will make life so much easier. We’ll still be paying for holiday care at a local nursery for my daughter (5) and son, but the 24 hours of free childcare term time only will make a huge difference. I send mine with packed lunches rather than paying for extra meals.

  • I sorted finance at a nursery and its a total joke. Great nurseries have closed because of it. The only reason the government offer vouchers at all is to get mums back to work but they just have these stupid ideas and then don’t discuss them with early years providers. Nurseries are not supposed to charge more for extras such as food but how are they expected to provide a quality provision for £3.50 ph (that’s how much the vouchers are worth to the nurseries)? Its stupid but your post is great and I apologize for going on! It just makes me cross for parents and EY providers! #KCACOLS

    • Don’t apologise at all, I could talk about it all day! It’s such a shame this very important area is so underfunded. Giving children a good start in life and helping valued staff back to work should be a no-brainer. In the end the fees will just have to go up and up in order to cover the huge shortfall x

  • Really interesting.Cygnet will turn 3 at the end of August. He will get his 15 hours free at pre-school (3 hours, 5 days a week). Nursery will do wrap-around care on a Monday. I am really lucky that grandma and grandpa will be able to collect him from school and look after him the rest of the days. I am investigating whether I can get funding for the wrap around care on the Monday. It is all sooooo complicated. Pen x #KCACOLS

  • We’re not eligible for the 30 hours as I’m not technically working but we will be using the 15 free hours and paying for an extra two, plus the meals to make it two and a half days. We’re quite lucky though that ours is only £3.20 an hour, the beauty of living out in the sticks x

  • That’s a hefty bill if you didn’t have free childcare too! My son is 2 and in September I am taking advantage of the 2 year old funding as I’m self employed and in the final year of my degree. I’m going to just send him on just one morning a week then try him a bit more the term after he turns 3.

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time