The government is extending the provision of 30 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks to now include all pre-school children over the age of nine months.
The extended childcare provision will be of benefit to parents with newborns – or those planning a family – but parents with children currently aged one or two years old will not see the full benefit of the changes because of the phased introduction of the support:
|From||Free childcare extended to||Amount of childcare|
|April 2024||Children aged two years||15 hours|
|September 2024||Children aged nine months to two years||15 hours|
|September 2025||30 hours|
Children can take up their childcare place in the term after they meet the age requirement (subject to having received a code to give to the childcare provider), with terms typically beginning on 1 January, 1 April and 1 September.
To be eligible, both parents must work at least 16 hours a week at the National Minimum/Living Wage, and neither can earn more than £100,000 a year.
Challenges and shortfalls
Government-funded childcare entitlement is currently only available for a total of 1,140 hours a year, which works out to 30 hours over 38 weeks, so the new rules may spur some adjustments by children providers.
- Providers may simply offer fewer hours a week to stretch the funded hours over the whole year; or
- They may provide 30 hours for the whole year with parents paying for the shortfall of unfunded hours.
In theory, the changes will help parents who want to go back to work but finding an available childcare space will likely continue to be problematic, even with the September 2023 child-to-staff ratio increase from four to five. Many nurseries are encountering financial difficulties, and the childcare extension will mean providers cannot make up shortfalls by charging more for younger children.
There are different schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Government guidance on help with paying for childcare can be found here.