Childcare can be a significant financial burden for parents with costs adding up to thousands per year.
To address the issue, the government is doubling free child care for three and four-year-olds in England from 15 hours to 30 hours from September 1.
The 30 hour funding will be available to parents who work at least 16 hours and earn less than £100,000.
They can claim it for the term after their child's 3rd birthday.
It will usually available for 38 weeks of the year (term-time) but if a child attends a childcare setting for 51 weeks of the year it can be 'stretched' to 22 hours a week.
To be eligible from September, the deadline to apply is August 31, otherwise the funding will not be able to be accessed until the Spring term.
Does your family qualify?
Parents will be eligible if they meet the following criteria
- They earn or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months.
- This equates to £120 a week for each parent over 25 years old, £112.80 a week for those between 21 and 24 years old and £56 a week for apprentices in their first year.
- This applies to both parents in a household or lone parents
What if you can't work?
You may still be eligible to get 30 hours free childcare if your partner is working, and you get Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.
Who is not eligible?
A parent will not qualify for the 30 hours free childcare if their child does not usually live with them or is a foster child.
If either parent has an income over £100,000 they will also not be eligible.
How do you apply for 30 hours free childcare?
Parents will be able to apply for the 30-hour offer by making an online application.
You will need to provide your details (and your partner’s, if you have one), including your National Insurance number or Unique Taxpayer Reference if you are self-employed.
If you are successful you will receive a 11-digit code to pass on to your childcare provider to secure the funding.
You will then need to reconfirm that you are still eligible every three months.
There have been some delays in codes being issued but the government has said anyone who applies on and before 31 August will still be able to use them for the term starting in September.
Do nurseries have to provide the 30 hours?
The 30-hour scheme is optional so your childcare provider may decide not to offer funded places or limit the number of 30-hours places they offer.
An ITV News survey in partnership with the National Day Nurseries Association, has found that 15% of nurseries across England are not taking part in the scheme.
Some have said the hourly rate the government is offering nurseries will not cover their running costs leading to a funding shortfall which could "bankrupt" some of them.
Can you split your 30 hours between providers?
Yes, you can divide your entitlement between more than one provider though there will be certain conditions and you will need to provide your eligibility code to each provider.
Although some nurseries are not offering the 30 hours free childcare, the majority will be, though certain conditions may need to be satisfied.
For example, preference may be given to families whose children are already attending, prospective families may have to join a waiting list.
Speak to your childcare provider directly about any questions you may have about the scheme.