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The government’s new free childcare plan is expected to roll out this year with the first stage of applications having opened on 2 January. The plan will be rolled out in stages, starting in April this year.

The current scheme provides 30 hours of free childcare to eligible working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds in England.

But the newly expanded scheme will apply to eligible working parents of 9-month-olds to 3-year-olds, with the goal being to eventually make up to 30 hours of free care at an approved provider, available for all children from 9 months of age until they begin school.

It will start with parents of two-year-olds benefiting from April 2024.

Parents must check their eligibility and apply for the scheme to secure a code which is then given to their chosen childcare provider

(PA)

Will I be eligible?

You, and any partner, must each expect to earn an average of at least £167 per week which is equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage.

Working parents who individually earn more than £8,670 but less than £100,000 net income per year are eligible.

For couples, the rules apply to both parents, so both must earn at least £8,670 and neither can earn more than £100,000.

According to the government’s Childcare Choices website, if you, or your partner, are on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or you’re unable to work because you are disabled or have caring responsibilities, you could still be eligible.

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Eligible working families can get up to 30 hours childcare. This cannot be used in addition to the 15 hours available for all 3 and 4 year olds.

When can I apply?

The first stage of the roll out will see eligible working parents of two-year-olds receive 15 hours free childcare per week starting from April 2024.

Applications for this first stage opened on 2 January 2024. Parents will be asked to reconfirm that they are still eligible for the support every 3 months. T

he government recommends eligible parents apply between mid-January and the end of February so that they don’t need to reconfirm eligibility before taking up a place.

Parents can apply for a place via the government’s Childcare Choices website.

When can my child start?

Once you have checked you are eligible and will be better off during the new scheme, and applied for free childcare if you’re working you can provide your code to your childcare provider.

The Childcare Choices website states: “Your child can start in their childcare place the term after they are eligible and have received a valid eligibility code, whichever is later. Term start dates are 1st September, 1stJanuary and 1st April.”

To keep your 15 or 30 hours childcare place you need to check your details are up to date every 3 months.

Where can I use it?

It’s available at participating:

  • Full day care (e.g nurseries)
  • Schools
  • Childminders
  • Sessional providers (e.g. playgroups)
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres
  • After school clubs

What isn’t covered?

The Childcare Choices site states: “These childcare offers are not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables (such as nappies or sun cream), additional hours or additional activities (such as trips).

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“Providers may charge a fee for these additions. If you choose to pay for these it is an arrangement between you and the childcare provider.

“However, you must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 15 or 30 hours place, and must be offered alternative options.”

Expected timeline

In summary, up to 15 hours of free childcare for eligible working families in England with a 2-year-old will be available from April 2024.

From September 2024, 15 hours of free childcare will be extended to all children between 9 and 23 months old.

From September 2025, working parents of children between 9 months old and school age will be entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week.

More information can be found on the government’s website.

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