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Working parents of two-year-olds: Application open for 15 hours' free childcare

Working parents of two-year-olds: Application open for 15 hours' free childcare
Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Eligible working parents of two-year-olds can now register for 15 hours of free childcare per week in England starting from April 2024.

As part of the first wave of the “largest ever expansion of free childcare”, parents can now visit Childcare Choices to sign-up for 15 hours free childcare for two-year-olds, effective from April 2024.

However, the Government recommends parents register between mid-January and the end of February 2024 to tie in with ‘reconfirmation’ which occurs every three months. Applying during this window means parents won’t need to reconfirm their eligibility ahead of 1 April when the expanded childcare programme kicks into force.

It comes after being announced in the March 2023 Budget, offering up to 30 hours a week of funded term-time care to all children in working families from the age of nine months by September 2025.

The programme is expected to roll out in the following phases:

  • April 2024: Up to 15 hours for eligible working families in England with a two-year-old.
  • September 2024: Up to 15 hours for eligible working families in England with a child between nine and 23 months old.
  • September 2025:Up to 30 hours for eligible working families in England with a child from nine months old up to school age.

Are you eligible for childcare cost help?

Some parents of two-year-old children can currently get 15 hours of free childcare if they’re in receipt of Government support.

Meanwhile, 15 hours of free childcare is available for all families in England for three- and four-year-olds.

But working parents of three- and four-year old children are eligible for 30 hours of free childcare over 38 weeks of the year (term time).

You and any partner must each earn on average at least £167 a week, which is equivalent to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage. But you or your partner can’t earn more than £100,000 adjusted net income (individually) to be eligible.

The Department for Education (DfE) confirmed to YourMoney.com that eligibility for the free hours for children aged nine months or older will match the existing offer for three- and four-year-olds.

And the effective term start dates will also remain. At the moment, children can start to access the free hours in the term after their third birthday (1 September, 1 January and 1 April) and parents have received a valid eligibility code.

This can therefore mean a lag between when they are eligible and when parents gain the financial help, with this delay continuing under the expanded programme.

Childcare challenges

After the Government announced the childcare changes, concerns were raised by campaign groups and think tanks regarding the implementation and the benefits of the rollout.

Many early years settings suggested they wouldn’t be able to offer the new entitlement because of the challenges around recruiting and retaining suitably qualified staff.

Meanwhile, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested the Government childcare plans ‘have little to offer the poorest families’.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “As applications for the new offer open, parents of eligible children will understandably be looking forward to receiving greater support towards the cost of early years places. But while the scheme may sound good in theory, the reality is likely to be very different.

“With the early years sector facing its worst recruitment and retention crisis in recent memory, many settings simply won’t have the staff needed to deliver places to additional children – and unless funding increases to a level that allows providers to pay early years professionals a decent wage, this is unlikely to change any time soon.”

Leitch added: “If this policy is to have any hope of succeeding, the government must tackle the huge challenges facing the sector as a matter of urgency. That means a clear and comprehensive plan to tackle staffing shortages and, crucially, adequate funding for the sector, both now and in the future. Anything less and, despite the government’s promises, parents across the country are likely to be left sorely disappointed.”