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Free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds

Childcare Choices website

All 3 and 4 year old children can have 15 hours free early education a week over 38 weeks of the year. That’s 570 hours every year until they start school.

Some childcare providers offer fewer hours each week can be taken over more weeks of the year.

Working families may get an extra 15 hours a week of free childcare - so up to 30 in all! (From September 2017)

Find out more and apply through the government’s Childcare Choices website.

How do I apply for the 30 free hours?

For more information and to get updates registered with the government's Childcare Choices website.

How many hours are free?

The current universal entitlement for all 3 and 4-year-olds will continue. Every 3 and 4 year-old will still be entitled to 15 hours free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year – a total of 570 hours per year.

However, the Government is going to increase this entitlement for eligible working parents of 3 and 4 year-olds from 1 September 2017. Working parents will be entitled to an additional 15 hours of free childcare a week to make a total of 30 hours. This will be offered for 38 weeks of the year – a total of 1,140 hours per year.

What age does my child have to be to qualify?

Your child will be eligible to claim the 30 free hours from the beginning of the term after their 3rd birthday. Terms starts on 1 January, 1 April or 1 September.

For example, if you child turns 3 on the 23 June, they will be eligible from the 1 September.

In order for your child to qualify for the 30 free hours from 1 September 2017, they must have been born after 1 September 2013.

Will my child qualify?

In order for a child aged three or four to qualify, both parents must be working or the sole parent must be working in a lone parent family. 

An adopted child qualifies as long as you and your partner meet the eligibility criteria.

You could still qualify for the 30 hours free childcare if:

  • one or both parents are temporarily away from work because of maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave
  • one or both parents are in receipt of statutory sick pay
  • one or both parents are on specific carers' benefits
  • one or both parents are on specific disability benefits

Is my foster child eligible?

Foster carers cannot claim the 30 free hours for children they foster. The child can still access their 15 hours of funded childcare at aged three and four up until they start school.

Is there a minimum or maximum each parent must earn?

Eligibility is based on income earned, not hours worked.

  • Each parent over the age of 25 must earn at least £115.20 a week at current rates (as of November 2016). This is the equivalent of 16 hours at the National Living Wage
  • If you are aged 16 - 24 you must earn at least £64.00 - £111.20 at current rates (as of November 2016) - depending on your age. This is the equivalent of 16 hours at the National Minimum Wage for your age.
  • If you are on an apprenticeship you must earn at least £54.40 a week at current rates (as of November 2016). This applies for apprentice parents under the age of 19, or older apprentice parents in the first year of an apprenticeship. This is the equivalent of 16 hours at the national Apprentice Rate.

The upper limit that each parent can earn is £100,000.

What if my partner or I are on a zero hours contract?

Providing you work on average two weeks out of every three and when you are working you earn the equivalent of at least 25 hours at the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage (depending on your age), your child will be eligible for the 30 hours free childcare.

Will my child qualify if my partner or I are self employed?

As long as you earn at least the minimum amount (see ‘Is there a minimum or a maximum amount that each parent must earn?’ above) but less than the upper threshold of £100,000 each, your child will be eligible for the 30 hours free childcare.

Will my child qualify if I have just started a new job?

If you expect to earn at least the minimum amount (see ‘Is there a minimum or a maximum amount that each parent must earn?’ above) on average, over the next three months, your child will be eligible for the 30 hours free childcare.

What happens if my income drops below the minimum amount? Or I lose my job?

If either parent starts earning less than the minimum income threshold or stops working altogether, you will be given a short ‘grace period’ (set by the Government) to give you time to find a new job and start earning at least the minimum amount again. This ‘grace period’ has not been specified as of November 2016.

If you do not find a new job within the grace period, your child will stop being eligible to receive the 30 hours free childcare.

If my partner or I become eligible part way through a term can we get the 30 hours straight away?

The Government has said that local authorities should allow you to start claiming your 30 free hours “as soon as is reasonably practicable” during that term, and no later than the start of the next term.

What type of childcare providers can offer the 30 hours?

All Ofsted-registered approved childcare providers on Suffolk's List of Providers of grant funded early education can choose to offer the 30 hours free childcare. This includes childminders, nursery schools, day nurseries and pre-schools. 

It is the providers' choice if they offer the 30 hours. Parents should speak to their current provider or any provider they are thinking of using. Details of providers can be found on Suffolk Family Services Directory.

Can I take the 30 hours free childcare with a nanny or relative?

No, because they are not approved to deliver the entitlement.

Will all childcare providers in Suffolk offer 30 hours of free childcare?

It is unlikely. It will be optional for approved childcare providers in Suffolk, and elsewhere, to offer the 30 free hours.

Suffolk Family Information Service (FIS) will consult with childcare providers in the Spring of 2017 to see if they are likely to be offering the 30 free hours and record their responses on our Family Services Directory.

Childcare providers who opt not to provide the 30 free hours might still offer the universal 15 free hours for 3 & 4-year-olds.

What if my current childcare provider does not offer the 30 hours?

You could consider moving your child to another childcare provider who will offer the 30 free hours. Or you could stay with your existing provider if they will offer the universal 15 free hours but also use another childcare provider who is going to offer the 30 free hours, for the additional 15 hours per week.

Can I use more than one childcare provider to claim the full 30 hours?

There will be no limitation on the number of providers. However, the 30 hours will be limited to two sites in a single day to avoid the potential negative impact on children of multiple transitions between sites.

Do I have to use all 30 hours each week?

No, you can use anything from 16-30 hours - it is up to you.

However, not all childcare providers may be able to offer the exact amount of free hours that you require. Providers can claim the 30 free hours entitlement from their Local Authority using the following criteria (as of November 2016):

  • 10 hours maximum per day
  • No minimum amount of hours per day
  • Hours between 6am – 8pm each day

If your childcare provider cannot offer the exact amount of free hours that you require, you could split your 30 free hours across more than one childcare provider.

Can I claim my 30 hours a week all year round?

The new 30 free hours’ entitlement should be flexible. The phrase ‘30 free hours a week’ is based on a childcare provider only being open for the 38 weeks during the year (term-time only). However, childcare providers will have the option to offer the same total number of hours (1,140 per year) over more than 38 weeks.

For example, if a childcare provider is open 48 weeks of the year, then they could offer 23.75 funded hours per week all year round. Or if a provider is open 51 weeks of the year, then they could offer 22.25 funded hours per week all year round. This is known as a stretched offer.

However, not all childcare providers may be able to offer the stretched offer.

Providers can claim the 30 free hours’ entitlement from their Local Authority using the following criteria (as of November 2016):

  • 10 hours maximum per day
  • No minimum amount of hours per day
  • Hours between 6am – 8pm each day

No childcare provider can offer more than 30 free hours per week over fewer than 38 weeks.

If your child attends a childcare provider for more than the free hours available in a claim period, you will be responsible for these fees. You should also check whether there are any other additional charges such as for meals and snacks.

What legislation applies to the 30 hour scheme?

The government is introducing the 30 hours of free childcare as part of the Childcare Act 2016. The aim is to help working families and allow more parents to work if they want to.

From 1 September 2017, free childcare will be available for up to 30 hours a week (for up to 38 weeks a year) for working parents of 3 and 4 year-olds.

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