Free Childcare Guide for Parents

A note on COVID 19: Parents who are usually eligible to access the 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare schemes will continue to benefit from them, even if their income falls during the coronavirus outbreak. The Department for Education has confirmed that parents will still receive funding for the offers, even if their earnings fall below the minimum requirements during the pandemic.

The government’s 30-hours funded childcare places for working parents of three- and four-year-olds differs from the 15 hours childcare offer.

Below we address some of the details and questions on the 30 hours offer, including how to sign up for it and the temporary eligibility changes that have been introduced as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Is my family eligible for 15 hours funding?

All 3 and 4 year olds are automatically eligible for 15 hours of funding the term after their third birthday.

Is my family eligible for 30 hours funding?

You will be eligible for the 30-hour funded childcare offer if:

  • You earn more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage or minimum wage per week: for example, over the next three months you expect to earn at least £1,813.76 – the National Living Wage if you are 25 or older.

There is no requirement to work a certain number of hours per week – it is all about how much you earn. This means if you only work 10 hours a week but earn £12 per hour, you will meet the minimum earning threshold. Apprentices are also eligible as long as they earn the equivalent to 16 hours at the apprentice minimum wage.

AND

  • You earn less than £100,000 per year.

This applies if you are self-employed or on a zero-hours contract and expect to meet the earning criteria on average over the three months after you have applied for the 30-hours. HMRC will look at data such as your previous earnings to consider whether you are likely to meet the criteria and may contact you for further information if they are unsure. 

If you are starting up your own business, you will not be expected to meet the minimum earning criteria in your first year of trading. 

If you are not working but you expect to take up paid work within 31 days, you can still apply for 30 hours, as long as you expect to meet the income criteria over the coming three months.

If you are a single parent and meet the above criteria, you will be eligible for the 30 hours. If you live with a partner, you both must meet the above criteria. This still applies if one of you is not the child’s parent – for example, if you have remarried or have started living with a new partner. If you are separated/divorced from your child’s parent, the eligibility rules will only apply to the parent that the child normally lives with (and their new partner if they are part of the same household).

If you are on shared parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave, you can still apply for the 30 hours. If you’re on adoption leave for a child aged three- to four-years-old, you must return to work within 31 days of the date you first apply for 30 hours free childcare.

My earnings have changed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Am I still eligible for the 30 hours?

The government has confirmed that parents and carers who will not meet the minimum income threshold due to lower earnings as a direct result of coronavirus will be treated as meeting that test. This includes parents and carers who have been placed on furlough.

In addition, critical workers who are receiving an increased income mainly as a result of work undertaken directly or indirectly as a result of the coronavirus outbreak can continue to take up 30 hours free childcare if their earnings do not exceed £150,000, rather than the normal £100,000 limit.

More information on temporary changes to eligibility criteria for the 30 hours offer (and tax-free childcare) is available here.  

What if I am sick or caring for someone?

You will not have to meet the minimum earnings criteria if:

You and your partner are employed but one or both of you is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity, adoption leave, or on statutory sick pay

You are employed but your partner either has substantial caring responsibilities, or is disabled or incapacitated, or vice versa (i.e. your partner is employed but you have caring responsibilities or are disabled or incapacitated). This is dependent on you or your partner being entitled to specific disability or caring benefits.

How do I sign up for the 30 hours?

You can apply for both the 30-hour offer and tax-free childcare via a single application on the Gov.uk website.

To complete the application, you provide your name, address and national insurance number, as well as whether you expect to meet the income requirements over the next three months and whether you are in receipt of any benefits. 

If you live with a partner, you will need to provide the same information for them as well. This will enable HMRC to decide whether your child is eligible for the 30 hours (as well as tax-free childcare).

If you are eligible, you will be given an 11-digit code that you will need to take to your childcare provider along with your national insurance number and your child’s birth certificate.

Your provider will then use the government’s eligibility checking system to check the code is valid. If it is, they will be able to book your child’s place – but bear in mind that providers don’t have to take part in the 30-hour offer, so be sure to speak to your childcare provider about what they are able to offer for your family.

You will need to reconfirm your eligibility every three months and will receive a reminder text message or email from the government before the deadline.

If you give false information about your eligibility, you could be fined up to £3000.

My child is going to turn three next year. How soon can I access the 30 hours?

Your child will be eligible for the 30 hours offer from the term after they turn three, or the term after you receive your eligibility code – whichever is later.

For example, if your child turns three on 25 March, and you apply for the 30-hours on 27 March, your child will be eligible for a place from 1 April (i.e. the start of the spring term). However, if your child turns three on 25 March but you don’t apply for the 30 hours until 5 April, your child won’t be eligible for a place until 1 September (i.e. the start of the autumn term).

If I’m not eligible for the 30-hour offer, can I still get my 15 hours?

Yes. The 15-hour offer is still universal so if you’re not eligible for a 30-hour place, you will still be eligible for the 15-hour offer.

Is there any difference in how the first 15 hours and the second 15 hours under the 30-hour offer will be delivered?

No, there is no difference. Childcare providers will provide early years care and education that follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework across the whole 30 hours.

More information is available at the government’s Childcare Choices website.

(Early Years Alliance, 2020)