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30 hours of free childcare for working parents

All 3 and 4 year olds and some 2 year olds are entitled to 570 hours of free early education and childcare a year. This is usually offered as 15 hours per week for up to 38 weeks a year and is known as the universal entitlement. This entitlement can be claimed through an Ofsted registered childcare provider which could be a private, nursery, school nursery, daycare, pre-school, childminder, breakfast club, afterschool club or a holiday playscheme.

In September 2017 this entitlement was increased from 15 to 30 hours a week for working families who meet the eligibility criteria. This means that eligible children are be able to receive up to 1140 hours of free childcare a year. 

30 hours free childcare and Tax-Free Childcare are two separate government schemes, to help working parents with the cost of childcare. You can apply for both through one online application – the childcare service.

To find out if you are eligible and apply, you can visit the 30 hours free childcare: eligibility page on GOV.UK. There is also information about tax free childcare too.

Who will be eligible?

The extended entitlement is available to families where:

  • both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family)
  • each parent earns on average a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum wage  or 16 hours at National Living Wage. This equates to £120 a week (or c.£6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 a week (or c.£5,800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old and £56 a week for apprentices in their first year. 
  • neither parent has an income of more than £100,000 per year
  • both parents are employed but one or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity leave
  • both parents are employed but one or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on adoption leave
  • both parents are employed but one or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick pay
  • one parent is employed and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring, or
  • one parent is employed and one parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits

Children in foster care are also able to receive 30 hours free childcare, if the following criteria are met:

  • That accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan, placing the child at the centre of the process and decision making, and
  • That, in single parent foster families, the foster parent engages in paid work outside their role as a foster parent.
  • And in two parent foster families, both partners engage in paid work outside their role as a foster parent. If one partner is not a foster parent then they must be in qualifying paid work and earn a minimum of the equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum/national living wage.

How can I confirm my eligibility?

You can check whether you could be eligible for a range of government childcare offers, including 30 hours, via the Childcare Choices website or the Childcare Calculator website. If the checker shows you are eligible you will be given an eligibility code to take to your childcare provider. You will need to reconfirm your eligibility every three months to continue claiming the extra hours. 

If you foster your child, you cannot apply online. Ask your social worker to initiate the 30 hours Free Childcare Application process.

What happens if I no longer meet the eligibility criteria?

If your family no longer meets the criteria you will stop being eligible to claim the extra hours. However, there will be a grace period until the start of the next funded period to give you the opportunity to regain employment. If your circumstances change during the grace period you can reapply again and continue to receive the extra hours

You will still be able to receive the universal 15 hours of Free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds even if you are no longer eligible for the extended entitlement.

If I am eligible when can my child start to receive the extended entitlement?

Eligible children can receive the extra free hours from the start of the term following their third birthday:

Child born between

Can receive the free hours from

1 September to 31 December 

January (Spring term)

1 January to 31 March

April (Summer term)

1 April to 31 August

September (Autumn term)

Please note that you can only claim the extended hours the term following your child's third birthday or the term following the receipt of your eligibility code from HMRC (whichever is the later). Therefore, you MUST apply the term before your child meets the eligible age to ensure your child can access a place at the start of the term after your child turns three. If not, you will need to wait until the following term to access the 30hr place.

Provided they continue to meet the eligibility criteria children can receive the additional hours until they either start in a reception class at a local authority maintained school or reach compulsory school age (which is the school term after their fifth birthday).

When can my child use the extended entitlement hours?

It is proposed that the free hours will be delivered as flexibly as possible and there is no requirement for them to be taken on a particular day of the week. However, you won’t be able to:

  • have any time before 6am or after 8pm
  • claim more than 10 hours a day
  • claim more than 30 hours a week
  • claim more than 1140 hours per year
  • use the funding at more than two childcare providers in one day

This can be taken as 30 hours per week during term time (38 weeks per year), or it can be stretched over the whole year. This means that fewer hours per week can be taken over more weeks of the year. For example, this would be 22 hours per week if the child attends all year round, or 24 hours per week over 48 weeks.

You can stretch your free childcare entitlement, if your childcare provider can accommodate it.  For example, you could take your 1140 hours per year in a variety of different ways:

  • over term time e.g. 30hrs per week over 38 weeks
  • stretched out over more than 38 weeks e.g. approximately 22 hrs per week over 51 weeks
  • for fewer than the full 30hrs e.g. 24 hours per week over 38 weeks

Childcare providers do not have to offer a particular pattern of provision to parents/carers, and some may work in partnership with another childcare provider to offer the 30 hours. For example, a childminder may pick up children after a morning nursery session.

There are a variety of childcare providers in Waltham Forest who deliver the childcare in a number of different ways, so if parents/carers are unable to access their place at their preferred provider they should be able to find an alternative quality childcare place which meets their needs.

How can I find a childcare provider offering the extended entitlement?

There is a full listing of all 30 hour childcare providers here on the Waltham Forest Directory. If you need further support with looking for childcare, contact us at childcare@walthamforest.gov.uk or call 020 8496 3566.

What do I have to pay for?

If you wish to use more than 30 hours free childcare per week, you will need to pay for the extra hours. You will need to arrange this with your childcare provider. They must ask you to sign a Waltham Forest parental declaration form and should also provide you with a contract so it is clear what hours you are paying for and which are included in the free 30 hour childcare entitlement.

Childcare providers may ask parents/carers for a deposit if they are paying for some of the childcare themselves. If you are only accessing then 30 hours free childcare funding, you may be asked to pay a deposit, but this should be returned to you within the first term of your child attending. Apart from that, there should be nothing else for you to have to pay for.

Childcare providers can charge for extra costs, such as food, and trips but they can’t make this a condition of accessing the free childcare funding for parents/carers who are only taking up their free entitlement hours.  For example, parents/carers must be given the option of bringing a packed lunch for their child, instead of having to pay for meals. Childcare providers have to make information about their costs clear and transparent to parents/carers.

Childcare providers should provide invoices to parents/carers, clearly detailing which hours are free funded hours, and which are chargeable. This invoice should also include any extras the parents have chosen to purchase. 

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