Increase in free early learning and childcare entitlement for working parents
All three and four-year-olds are entitled to 570 hours of government-funded childcare per year; from September 2017, the Childcare Act 2016 increases this entitlement for working parents by an additional 570 hours.
This means many families will be able to claim 1140 hours of free childcare per year, or 30 hours per term-time week for each of their three or four-year-olds. If the entitlement is also used outside of term time - across 50 weeks of the year - this works out to 22.8 hours per week.
These additional hours will support working parents who are struggling with childcare costs and who may be looking to increase their working hours. The hours are also flexible, depending on what would suit a family’s particular needs, meaning all, or some, of the free 30 hours a week can be used. Specific arrangements should be discussed with the childcare provider/school.
Do I qualify?
The additional free hours will be available to families where:
- Both parents are in work (as defined below) and for single parent families, the sole parent is in work.
- 'In work’ means in employment (including self-employment) and earning more than the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage for working 16 hours a week.
- Each parent must also earn less than £100,000 per year.
- One parent must be 'in work' if the other receives disability benefit or benefits related to caring responsibilities.
It is also proposed that the additional hours should be made available to families in the following circumstances:
- Both parents are employed but one, or both parents, are temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity leave.
- Both parents are employed but one, or both parents, are temporarily away from the workplace on adoption leave.
- Both parents are employed but one, or both parents, are 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.
As with the existing 15 hours free entitlement for three and four-year olds, children will become eligible for the additional 15 hours at the start of the school term after their third birthday:
Age of child
As with the existing 15 hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds, children become eligible for the additional 15 hours at the start of the school term after their third birthday.
|1 April – 31 August
||1 September following the 3rd birthday|
|1 September - 31 December
||1 January following their 3rd birthday|
|1 January – 31 March
||1 April following their 3rd birthday|
If your circumstances change
If a family’s circumstances change and they are no longer eligible for the additional 15 hours of free childcare, a grace period will apply so that children can continue with their free place for a short period of time. If a parent’s circumstances change again during this period, they may reapply to HMRC and continue to receive the extra hours.
The table below outlines the point at which a child would continue to receive the free early learning and childcare hours, in the event of a change in circumstances:
|First half of autumn term
||End of the autumn term |
|Second half of the autumn term
||End of first half of spring term |
|First half of spring term
||End of the spring term |
|Second half of spring term
||End of first half of summer term |
|First half of summer term
||End of the summer term |
|Second half of summer term
||Start of the autumn term|
Choosing a childcare provider/school
Childcare providers/schools in Essex do not have to offer the additional hours, over and above the current 15 hours free entitlement for all three and four-year-olds.
As such, it may be possible to access the full 30 hours across more than one childcare provider/school and choose a different pattern of attendance depending on which provider is chosen.
Information about the childcare providers offering the extra hours, will shortly be added to the Choosing a childcare provider. In the meantime families should speak to their chosen provider(s) to find out whether they are planning to offer the additional hours from September 2017.
How to apply
Families are also able to claim tax-free childcare alongside the extended entitlement hours and can apply for both schemes via the HMRC website
Once a family has been confirmed as eligible, they will be given a unique code to present at their chosen childcare provider. Eligibility will need to be re-confirmed every three months in order to continue claiming the additional hours. More information about the extended entitlement and other help available to support families with the cost of childcare, can be found at childcare choices.
For help with completing your application, or any other queries, please contact HMRC on 0300 123 4097. Please note Essex County Council does not have access to the HMRC website and so will be unable to answer any queries.
Parents of children who will be 3 on 31 August can apply now