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Gordon Cameron, Policy and Research Officer at the Family and Childcare Trust outlines the issues for parents over the new childcare offer from the Government.
From September, thousands of three and four year olds will have their free childcare entitlement extended from 15 hours per week to 30. The extended entitlement will be available to families where both parents, or one parent in lone parent families, earn above an average of £120 per week (the equivalent to 16 hours per week at National Living Wage), but less than £100,000 per year. Since July, parents have been able to check their eligibility and sign up for the scheme via the government’s new
The impact of the 30 hour policy won’t be clear for some time. However, by the Family and Childcare Trust revealed concerns among parents, providers, and councils about the effects it will have on the price, availability and quality of childcare for all young children. In particular, there were concerns about extra charges and whether there would be enough places.
Childcare providers can charge for extra activities and services (such as additional hours, food, nappies, special classes and trips), but these must be offered as optional extras, and not as a condition of taking up a free place. You should be allowed, for instance, to provide a packed lunch for your child rather than pay for a meal and you should not be asked to pay any additional fees in order to claim your free childcare.
In addition to introducing charges for optional extras, childcare providers may also decide to increase fees for hours purchased outside of the free entitlements. Our found that nearly a quarter of local authorities expect prices to increase for children aged two and under and almost two-fifths expect price rises for three to four year olds.
If you are not sure how your bill is calculated, you should talk to your childcare provider and ask them to explain any charges for additional services or hours.
Childcare providers do not have to provide the 30 hour offer and many may choose to opt out. Some have told us that they will not be offering 30 hour places because the funding rate is less than what they charge parents or does not cover their costs. We found that two-thirds of councils expect some settings in their area to not offer the 30 hour entitlement.
While some settings will opt out of the 30 hour offer, others may prioritise 30 hour places over other places, meaning some parents might struggle to find a place for the universal 15 hour offer for three and four year olds and the 15 hour entitlement for two year olds from disadvantaged families.
It is likely that access to 30 hour places, and other free and paid for places, will vary in different parts of the country. If you need help finding providers that offer 30 hour places, or any other type of childcare, you can use our to find contact details for you Family Information Service (FIS) or to find childcare available in your area.