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Currently the Government provides 15 hours per week of free childcare. You may have heard by now in the news that those 15 hours will be doubled to 30 hours per week when the new scheme goes nationwide, which will be in September this year. What you may not be aware of is that the Government is already piloting this scheme in certain areas of the country with another four pilots due to start this month. One of these pilot areas is North Yorkshire which is quite close to us here in Darlington and so perhaps the scheme may already apply to a few of our readers.


If you happen to be within one of the pilot areas currently or when the scheme rolls out nationwide there are eligibility criteria to satisfy to receive the 30 hours per week free childcare, which we will set out here:

  • You must live in England.
  • Your child must be 3 to 4 year old when the scheme starts in your area.
  • Both parents must be working, or if you are a lone parent family then the sole parent must be working.
  • Each parent earns or expects to earn, on average, a weekly minimum that is equivalent to 16 hours of the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.

1.  This equates to £120 a week (or c.£6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 a week (or c.£5,800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old.

2. each expect to earn at least £61.92 a week if you’re under 18, £84.80 a week if you’re aged 18-20 or £52.80 a week if you’re an apprentice (either under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship)

  • Either parent must earn an annual income of less than £100,000.
  • You should be seeking the free childcare to enable you to work

What is also worth noting is that these 30 hours per week free childcare are only for 38 weeks of the year, which is equivalent to school term times.  They cannot be used all year round.

Employment status:

The scheme is set up to help ‘working’ parents and so applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on a zero hours contract.

In families where one parent doesn’t work or both parents don’t work then they will usually not be eligible for this scheme. We say ‘usually’ as there are to be exceptions to that rule which are:

  • One or both parents are taking paid time off from work such as: maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or are on statutory sick leave.
  • One or both parents are temporarily away from England for a period of up to 6 months, such as if you’re in the military.
  • Where one parent meets the income criteria and the other parent is unable to work because they are in receipt of one or more of the following benefits:
  1. Contribution based Employment and Support Allowance
  2. Carer’s Allowance
  3. Incapacity Benefit or long term Incapacity Benefit
  4. Severe Disablement Allowance
  5. National Insurance credits because of incapacity or limited capability for work
  6. You’ve been assessed as having limited capability for work for Universal Credit purposes

Lose job, lose eligibility?

What about instances where a family no longer satisfies the criteria for this scheme as one parent loses their job?

If a working parent loses their job there is to be what is being referred to as a ‘grace period’ to remain on the scheme, for a short period of time, whilst they find new employment. Unfortunately, present that period of time has yet to be defined. Once that ‘grace period’ has elapsed the family may revert to the universal 15 hours per week free childcare.

How to apply:

You can already pre-register for the free 30 hours per week scheme on the .GOV website here

You will need to confirm that you live in England and provide your child’s date of birth and a contact email address. Once you have registered you will be sent information about when the scheme begins in your area and how to apply for it.

To apply for the scheme you will need to do the following:

  • Apply online through the childcare service.
  • You will be sent a unique 11 digit code if you are eligible for the scheme, which will allow you to arrange the childcare place ready for when it begins in your area.
  • Take the code, your National Insurance details and your child’s date of birth to the childcare.
  • Who will then check that the code is authentic, allocate your child a free childcare place and you can make arrangements for when it is to begin.

Reconfirm for eligibility:

Once you are on the scheme you will need to reconfirm that you are still eligible for the 30 hours free childcare every 3 months, don’t worry as you will be sent a reminder 4 weeks beforehand to do so. It will be your responsibility to reconfirm your eligibility and if you fail to do so your childcare provider or local council will be told that you no longer meet the requirements for the free childcare place.