The government’s 30-hours funded childcare scheme came into force on 1st September 2017. For some parents it has been a godsend. For others, it’s been a mixed blessing. Here’s our guide to everything parents need to know about the 30 hours:
Am I eligible?
To be eligible, you have to meet all of the following criteria:
- Your child is either 3 or 4 years old
- If your child turned 3 after August 31st, you’ll need to wait until 1st January 2018 to apply for the spring term.
- You live in England
- Both parents are working – or in a lone parent family, the sole parent is working
- You earn the equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage per week. (Put simply, that’s £120 per week if you’re 25 or over)
- Each parent earns less than £100,000 per year
The £100,000 a year earning figure also applies if you’re self-employed or on a zero hours contract. You’ll be eligible if you expect to meet the earning criteria over the 3 months after you’ve applied.
Bear in mind that regardless of their parents’ work status and earnings, all 3 and 4-year-olds remain entitled to 15 hours per week (or 570 hours per year) of early education.
Do I get 30 hours per week all year round?
No, the offer is based on a school term schedule rather than a working parent schedule. It works out as 1140 free hours across the year – and with the full 30 hours per week, that covers only 38 weeks of the year.
You don’t need to take up the full 30 hours. If you need fewer hours per week, this will still be covered.
Some providers are choosing to deliver a `stretched offer’. This involves fewer hours per week, but stretched over more weeks of the year – say 22 hours per week over 52 weeks of the year, or 24 hours per week over 48 weeks. It’s best to discuss with your provider what would work best for you.
If I’m eligible, am I guaranteed to get my 30 hours?
This is where things get tricky. Early years providers aren’t obliged to offer the scheme, it’s voluntary.
Earlier this year, the Pre-School Learning Alliance carried out a survey of 1000 childcare providers and found that 19% of providers were NOT planning on offering the scheme.
While many childcare providers want to, many simply can’t afford to offer funded places. Both the PSLA and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) have complained that there’s a significant shortfall in the funding offered by the Government – a loss of around 39p per child.
There have already been reports that free places in in short supply. Even more worryingly, the PSLA survey found that 49% of childcare providers felt they’d end up closing down as a result of the scheme.
Is it really free?
For a lot of eligible parents, it offers great value. But the shortfall in funding is, inevitably, having to be covered elsewhere. Consumables such as meals, nappies and wipes aren’t covered by the funding. Neither are additional activities such as outings or classes. As a result, providers are having to charge parents for essential extras that were previously provided for free.
Some parents are being asked for voluntary donations, others are being hit by higher charges for non-free hours.
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