How to apply for 30 free hours childcare? When will government childcare be extended from 15 free hours?

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  • From September, all children aged nine months and older will have access to 15 hours of free a week
  • Children under five will qualify for 30 hours of free childcare a week from September 2025
  • The cost of full-time nursery care for a child under two in Britain is £15,709 in 2024
  • Applications for children aged nine months to 23 months are now open for September 2024
  • But there are concerns about the availability of spaces and staff needed for the September 2025 rollout
  • Labour has expressed doubts about the feasibility of the government's childcare plan

Starting September 2024, all children aged nine months and older will have access to 15 hours of government-funded childcare.

Parents of two-year-olds have been able to access 15 hours of funded childcare since April. This will be extended from September, with applications having opened on Sunday 12 May for those whose children reach that age by 31 August.

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And beginning in September 2025, working parents with children under five years old will qualify for 30 hours of government-funded childcare per week.

The costs of childcare can add up significantly, putting a strain on family budgets, particularly for low to middle-income households.

According to children's charity Coram, the average cost of full-time nursery care (50 hours a week) for a child under two in Britain is £15,709 in 2024, up from just under £15,000 in 2023.

But which of the new childcare programmes are applications open for, and how exactly do you apply? Here is everything you need to know.

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Actress Charlotte Riley plays with children at Warner Bros Studios at The WonderWorks, the first dedicated childcare facility at a UK film or TV studio (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)Actress Charlotte Riley plays with children at Warner Bros Studios at The WonderWorks, the first dedicated childcare facility at a UK film or TV studio (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Actress Charlotte Riley plays with children at Warner Bros Studios at The WonderWorks, the first dedicated childcare facility at a UK film or TV studio (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images) | Getty Images

How to apply for expanded childcare

Parents should apply before the term starts in which their child will become eligible. It is also recommended to apply as soon as possible.

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Applications for parents of children aged nine months to 23 months are now open for the September 2024 term.

You must reconfirm your details every three months, so if you apply now, remember to confirm your details haven't changed before the term begins.

Parents of two, three and four-year-olds will be eligible for 15 or 30 hours of childcare starting in September can also apply.

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Once approved, you will receive a code to give to your officially registered childcare provider.

Free childcare hours are intended for use over 38 weeks of the year, during school term time. But some providers may allow you to spread these hours over 52 weeks if you use fewer hours per week.

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When can I apply for 30 hours of childcare for children under five?

The government’s website says that applications for 30 hours of government funded childcare a week (the scheme due to start in September 2025), will be open in the coming months.

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However, the general election could throw a spanner in the works, as a further 70,000 more places are likely to be needed for September next year, according to previous Department for Education (DfE) projections.

It estimated that 40,000 additional staff, compared with 2023, are required by September 2025 for the full rollout.

Whitehall’s spending watchdog last month warned that the Government’s childcare expansion could affect the quality of provision or places for young children.

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The risk of an influx of “inexperienced” early years staff, alongside higher staff to child supervision ratios for two-year-olds, may jeopardise the quality of childcare provision, according to the National Audit Office.

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As such, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said in March that Labour would not commit to implementing the government's childcare plan if they win the next general election, as she doubts that the necessary spaces will be available.

But earlier this month, the party said that “Labour will deliver the enhanced entitlements the government have offered, saving thousands of pounds a year for working families.”

How will these new provisions impact your family? Do you have any concerns or suggestions about the implementation of these programmes? Share your experiences and join the conversation in the comments section.

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