Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced a major expansion of the programme giving funded childcare hours to working parents of pre-school children in England.
Currently, most working parents of children aged three or four are entitled to 30 free hours a week of childcare for 38 weeks of the year.
This is set to be expanded to 30 hours a week for most working parents of children over nine months old, in a bid to encourage more mothers in particular back into the workforce after having a baby.
But with the changes due to be brought in in stages, many parents have been left wondering what help they will qualify for. Some have been disappointed to hear the changes won’t be brought in soon enough to help them.
NationalWorld’s interactive tool allows you to search for your child’s date of birth - or due date, if you are expecting - to see whether you will qualify for more help with childcare costs under the changes, and if so, when to expect this.
With the changes not due to be fully implemented until September 2025, many of the children who stand to benefit haven’t yet been born. Of course, if you are looking up a due date in our interactive tool, the result will be an estimate as the entitlement will depend on the child’s date of birth.
What details do we know about the new changes?
As always, with Budget announcements, the devil is in the detail. HM Treasury has confirmed that, as with the entitlement for three-year-olds, free hours won’t begin until the school term after a child reaches the correct age.
This can throw up large differences in when free childcare hours begin for children born just days apart. For instance, once the changes have been fully rolled out after September 2025, a child turning nine months old on March 31 would get 30 hours of funded childcare from the April term, whereas a child turning nine months old a day later on April 1 wouldn’t get 30 hours until the start of the September term, by which point they would be well over a year old.
The changes will be introduced in the following stages:
- From April 2024, most working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours per week
- From September 2024, most working parents of children aged nine months up to three years old can access 15 hours per week
- From September 2025 most working parents of children aged nine months up to three years old can access 30 hours per week
There will be other arrangements for parents claiming Universal Credit.
Eligibility rules will be the same as the current rules giving 30 free hours to parents of three and four-year-olds, HM Treasury has said.
A parent can qualify for 30 hours of funded childcare a week if they, and their partner, if they have one, earn the equivalent of the national minimum or living wage for 16 hours a week. They will not qualify if either they or their partner have an income over £100,000.
A parent who isn’t working may still be eligible if their partner is working, and they get Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Limited Capability for Work Benefit or contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance.
These changes only apply to people living in England. Different schemes operate in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
These changes won’t be brought in in time for me to benefit, what does this mean for me?
Children born before April 2021 look set to miss out on these changes, as they will already have turned three when the entitlement expands to two-year-olds in April 2024.
However, there are other sources of government help which parents can look into. The government’s Tax-Free Childcare scheme gives working parents up to £500 every three months (up to £2,000 a year) for each child to help with the costs of childcare.
For every £8 a parent pays into this account to pay for childcare, the government pays in £2. The limit increases to £1,000 every three months if a child is disabled, up to a maximum of £4,000 a year.
Under the current rules in place across England, some two-year-olds are already entitled to 15 hours of funded childcare a week. These include children who:
- Have been adopted
- Are in care
- Have an education, health and care (EHC) plan
- Get Disability Living Allowance
Your two-year-old can also get these 15 hours if you get certain benefits, including Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, as well as certain claimants of Universal Credit, Pension Credit,
Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit. See the Government website for full details.