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Providing 30 hours of free childcare

From September 2017 most working parents of 3 and 4 year olds will be eligible for an extra 15 hours of free childcare a week, term time. Added to their current universal entitlement of 15 hours, this means that their free early education entitlement will increase to a total of 30 hours a week, term time.

If spread over a whole year, the current 570 hours of free childcare these parents get will increase to 1140 hours. This is statutory under the Childcare Act 2016.

The government is encouraging childcare providers to offer the entitlement flexibly and extend the 1140 hours over the whole year if possible. They are encouraging partnership working between childcare providers. For example, the entitlement can be split between up to three separate childcare providers but at no more than two locations in any single day.


Who is eligible for 30 hours?

In a two parent family, both must work full or part-time and in a one parent family the sole parent must work full or part-time. Each parent must earn at least £107 per week (£5,574 per year) but less than £100,000 per year.

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How will parents show that they are eligible for 30 hours?

The government has introduced the Childcare Choices website where parents can apply for both Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours free childcare. They have also produced a 30 Hours Eligibility Guidance to help parents understand if they’re eligible.

Parents who don’t want to use Tax-Free Childcare can still apply through this website for the 30 hours free childcare. They will need to fill in an online application and if they're eligible, they'll be given an 11 digit eligibility code. The parent will then bring this code to their chosen childcare provider who will need to ask them to complete the 30 Hours Free Childcare Eligibility Form. Once the form is completed and signed the childcare provider will need to contact the Free Early Education Team on 01372 833811 who will use the information collected on the form to check the code through the Eligibility Checking Service and will let the provider know the result. This process is temporary and will change in the near future.

Government will remind parents every three months to reconfirm the details they entered on their application are still correct. This is to check that they're still eligible. They'll send parents a text message and/or email, four weeks before their reconfirmation deadline and again two weeks before the deadline if they still haven't reconfirmed.

The local authority will recheck the eligibility code at regular intervals and will tell the childcare provider if a parent is no longer eligible for the extended hours along with the date their grace period ends and funding will stop. If the family's circumstances have changed and they are no longer eligible for the 30 hours free childcare or they have not reconfirmed their eligibility, they will still get the universal 15 hours of free entitlement.

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What happens to parents who aren't eligible for 30 hours?

All 3 and 4 year olds are still entitled to the current universal 15 hours of free early education a week, term time. This equals 570 hours a year and can also be spread over more than 38 weeks if that option is available. It is very important for their development that these children can still access their full 15 hours entitlement and are not disadvantaged by being squeezed out by children taking 30 hours.

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How can the 30 hours be offered?

The government has published Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities which takes effect from September 2017. There are a number of changes from the current version which remains valid until 31 August 2017.

Main features include:

  • Only HMRC can decide if a family is eligible so parents must apply for the additional hours through their free online childcare service.
  • Childcare can be delivered between 6am and 8pm (but for no more than 10 hours a day).
  • Childcare can be taken at up to two sites each day and with up to three providers in a year.
  • The funding is available over 38 weeks per year. It can also be stretched across a full year if the provider offers this but the number of hours per week would be reduced (for example, 1140 hours per annum is 30 hours per week for 38 weeks and 22.8 hours per week over 50 weeks).
  • Childcare providers will not be restricted to a minimum session length.
  • Childcare providers may charge a deposit to secure a free place but must refund this to parents within a reasonable time.
  • Funded hours can be taken at breakfast clubs, after school clubs, holiday playschemes and at weekends, if available, as well as with registered childminders and other registered childcare providers.
  • Childcare providers must publish their admissions criteria and show clearly which hours/ sessions can be taken as free provision and any fees charged for additional time.
  • Invoices should show clearly which periods are free and which additional services or hours taken are being charged for.
  • Childcare providers will be able to ask for voluntary payments for meals and snacks as part of a free place as well as consumables such as nappies and sun cream and for trips and services such as languages or yoga.
  • Parents that qualify for the additional hours should also qualify for tax free childcare to help offset any additional costs.

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How much will providers get paid?

Do you need to offer the full 30 hours?

You don’t have to offer the full 30 hours, a few extra may be all that's needed by parents or you might choose to make informal links with another provider to offer a joined-up, stretched service.

See the Free Childcare for 3 and 4 year olds 30 hours toolkit (PDF= 469kb) for more information, including ideas for partnership working on page 8.

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What should childcare providers do to prepare for this?

Download our free 30 hours toolkit (PDF= 469kb) which has advice and recommendations for preparing for 30 hours.

The toolkit includes information and guidance on:

  • Designing a questionnaire (PDF = 87kb) to identify how many parents will be entitled to 30 hours and how they want to access this. 
  • How the additional hours could be stretched across more than 38 weeks, and if so, how many hours per week would be available.
  • How to decide how many of your places should be allocated to 30 hour children, 15 hour children and those children eligible for FEET. This includes suggestions on how to introduce a mixed model to create a positive impact on your sustainability by balancing your intake this year and in future years.
  • What you can do if you can’t open for 30 hours a week.
  • Working with other providers with ideas for partnership
  • Ideas for extending your current opening hours.
  • Providing lunches, early drop-offs, late pick-ups.
  • Checking your capacity for child places.
  • Extending or adapting the premises.
  • Revising your admissions policy to show how you will allocate your places.
  • Revising your applications forms to indicate eligibility for universal 15 hour and 30 hour places and the eligibility check reference number.
  • Having an appeals process if parents are unable to access all the time they want.
  • Promoting and marketing (PDF = 120kb) your childcare provision. 
  • Considering the effect of these changes on your staff working hours, wages, qualifications and training.
  • Financial forecasting (MS Excel = 46kb)

We will share more information as and when we have it through our weekly Childcare professionals update e-bulletins so make sure you’re signed up for these.

Files available to download

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