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30 Hours Free Childcare - How Does It Work?

31 March 2023

Having children is life-changing, and often it means that whilst they’re small, one of you will need to reduce your working hours or stop altogether to care for them. For those who do want to continue in their jobs, though, the price can be a problem. Whilst there are plenty of childcare options for babies and toddlers, they can be expensive.

The term after the child turns 3, however, there is light, and it is when the government provides funding to support parents back to work. Every three and 4-year-old in the UK is entitled to 15 free hours a week. However, this could increase to 30 free hours. 

Who is eligible for 30 free hours?

The 30 free hours of childcare funding is designed primarily to help working parents, and so, to qualify, both parents must be working and earning the equivalent of 16 hours a week, or £152 a week. This is capped for households with a combined income over £100,000.   

When will my child receive 30 free hours?

30 free hours are available for your child from the term after their 3rd birthday. For example, if they’re born between 1st September and 31st December, their free childcare will begin the following January. 

How can I apply for it?

Start by going to this website https://www.gov.uk/apply-30-hours-free-childcare and checking if you’re eligible. If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the schemes are slightly different but the links are on the same page. If you are eligible, continue to the application stage. You’ll just need your National Insurance number (and UTR if you’re self-employed). Then, once everything has gone through, HMRC will assess your application and notify you of the outcome. If successful, you’ll receive a code to pass on to your childcare provider before your child can begin receiving the free hours.

Does it work the same for all settings?

Depending on the kind of setting your child attends, your 30 free hours may work slightly differently. This is because the 30 free hours apply to term time settings. For those who attend a preschool attached to a school, throughout the 38 weeks of the school calendar, they will receive up to 30 hours of free childcare a week. Although with holidays off, you’ll still need to find alternative childcare. You can use the ‘stretched offer’ for children attending a nursery, meaning you use the 30 free hours across 52 weeks, equaling 22 hours a week.

Other important information

  • There is no statutory requirement for nurseries to provide 30 free hours, so it’s a good idea to check before enrolling your child.
  • You don’t have to use all 30 hours.
  • You can split your 30 free hours across different settings, even some forest schools. However, this is capped at three and only up to two different environments in one day.
  • You must confirm your details every three months to maintain your 30 free hours. If you forget or miss the deadline, you must reapply.
  • If you are separated from your child’s other parent, only one of you will be able to apply for the free childcare.

Photo by Naomi Shi

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