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Who Is Entitled to Free Childcare

03 July 2024

Balancing work commitments with childcare responsibilities can often pose significant challenges for families across the UK. Recognising this, the government has implemented various schemes to support families in accessing affordable childcare services. One such initiative is the provision of free childcare for eligible children across the country, of which there are currently 3 different schemes. But who exactly is entitled to this invaluable support?

In this article, we will explore the various eligibility requirements for free childcare across the UK, ensuring that you know when you can benefit from these schemes.

Low-Income Families and Children With Additional Needs: 2-Year-Old Funding

This free early-year childcare scheme for 2-year-olds is available for families who have a low household income and also those with a child who has additional needs. We are pleased to say that in our nursery we accept children who qualify for this scheme. Families who qualify can receive 15 hours per week of free childcare. Your eligibility is determined by whether you receive a qualifying benefit from the first list below, or whether your child (who intends on receiving the childcare) has specific needs from the second list.

Qualifying benefits:

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
  • Child Tax Credit and your household have an annual income of no more than £16,190 before tax
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

Your 2-year-old is also eligible if the following applies:

  • They’re currently looked after by a local council
  • They have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • They receive disability allowance
  • They’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order

Universal Entitlement: Ages 3 to 4

In England, all 3 and 4-year-olds are eligible for 570 hours of free early years education or childcare per year, usually taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks. Many people may be confused about whether there are eligibility requirements, but in this instance, childcare is universally available regardless of household income.

Over the years, various governments have backed the importance of early years education, which is why this scheme exists. Children who attend education settings at 3 and 4 years old essentially get a headstart in their cognitive development, and their social skills will improve. If you’re based in South Croydon and think your child could benefit from this education, why not explore our range of nursery rooms available?

Extended Support: The 30-Hour Scheme

For families wishing to utilise 30 hours of free childcare, there are stricter eligibility requirements. These specific requirements will be addressed shortly, but firstly let’s take a look at how much childcare your child could receive based on their age.

  • Starting from September 2024, if your child is 9 months old, eligible children can receive 15 hours of free childcare. In September 2025, this will rise to 30 hours.
  • Starting April 2024, eligible 2-year-olds can get free childcare.
  • Currently, eligible 3 to 4-year-olds can receive 30 hours of free childcare.

To be eligible for this childcare, you and your partner (someone you’re married to, in a civil partnership with, or live with) need to meet specific requirements based on employment and income, unless there are any exceptions.

  • If you’re claiming as a single parent, you must be working and earn, or expect to earn over the next 3 months, at least the equivalent of working 16 hours per week at the national minimum or living wage, depending on your age. Your adjusted net income cannot exceed £100,000 for the tax year.
  • If you’re claiming as a couple, you must both be working and earn, or expect to earn over the next 3 months at least the equivalent of working 16 hours per week at the national minimum or living wage, depending on your age. Either of your adjusted net incomes cannot exceed £100,000 for the tax year.

However, there are some exceptions to this where you do not have to match the eligibility requirements. These include:

  • If you’re experiencing a period of “specific leave”, which includes maternal and paternal leave, adoption, parental leave or parental bereavement leave.
  • If you’re receiving statutory pay for any of the above reasons, such as statutory maternity/paternity pay, or another reason such as statutory sick pay.
  • If you’re self-employed and therefore not legally entitled to any of the above leave or pay (but would be if you were employed), you’re also exempt from the minimum earning requirements and can therefore receive the free childcare allowance.

How Can I Apply for Each Free Childcare?

The easiest way to apply for the free childcare schemes is through the government website portal. From there, you can apply for free childcare in England. For working families looking for the extended 30-hour scheme, follow the step-by-step instructions on the government website, which involves applying for a code. For families in receipt of benefits and other special considerations and who are looking for 15 hours of funded childcare, a code is also needed, applied for via Government Gateway.

You can also apply for free childcare in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland here, but they follow different schemes which you can read about using the following links:

Are You Looking for an Education Setting for Your Child?

If you’re based in South Croydon and are looking for somewhere to redeem your free childcare, our safe, secure nursery could be perfect for you and your child. Explore the range of rooms we have available, and get in contact with us so we can discuss your childcare options with you.