Parents could double their free childcare hours from next month.
Some families will be able to apply for 30 hours of free childcare a week – double the current offering of 15 hours for all kids aged three and up.
The government scheme is rolling out next month but has already been hit by problems such as parents being unable to register online.
With childcare bills going up and up, the free hours could be a lifesaver for many.
However having had the details from my own nursery, as I wrote about in a previous post, it isn’t actually 30 hours of free weekly childcare.
Here’s the answers to 10 key questions about the scheme:
1. How old does my child have to be?
It’s for three and four-year-olds.
Some two-year-olds are eligible for the existing 15 hours of free care if families are claiming certain benefits, but will not be included in the extra hours.
2. Is it actually 30 hours of free childcare every week?
No. The 570 additional hours of free early education or childcare, making 1,140 hours in total, is actually for just 38 weeks of the year, not all 52 weeks.
It also only applies between normal working hours of 8am to 6pm.
3. Who is eligible?
The scheme is for parents working a certain number of hours. You, and your partner if this applies, are expected to earn at least £120 a week or work more than 16 hours at the national living wage.
There is a cap on earnings of £100,000 a year.
4. Can I use the hours to get whole days free of charge?
There is a daily cap of 10 hours on any given day. In addition, many childcare providers are only allowing eight free hours a day and charging an hourly rate for the remaining two hours.
5. What if I work but my partner doesn’t?
The scheme is aimed at working parents so you wouldn’t qualify for the extra hours. There are some exceptions, such as if someone is an official carer or receiving disability benefits.
6. Will all nurseries and childminders be taking part in the scheme?
No. It is not compulsory for childcare providers to offer the additional hours on top of the 15 already provided.
7. Why are some nurseries opting out?
The cost of childcare is estimated to be around £4.53 for the provider. The government has only allocated £4 an hour, so there is a shortfall.
Many nurseries are making up the cost by charging for food and other extras.
8. How do I apply?
Online at the HMRC website. If you are eligible, an eligibility code will be sent to you and this must be shown to the childcare provider to secure a place.
9. What else do I need to know about applying?
You will have to update your details every three months to show you are still eligible for the free hours. You will be reminded four weeks before the deadline.
10. When can I apply?
The scheme begins next month and some parents have struggled to register online already.
The date your free hours can begin depends on your child’s birthday. Your child is eligible from the term following their third birthday. So for a child born in January you can start claiming from April 1.
To apply and for more information visit the HMRC website.