England Extends Free Childcare 15 Hours Now for Two-Year-Olds

Asma Ahmed - | World

In England, parents now have access to 15 hours of free weekly childcare for their two-year-olds as part of a government initiative aimed at facilitating parents' return to work.

This scheme, which recently extended its coverage to include two-year-olds starting on April 1st, is anticipated to provide significant support to working families. However, individuals who missed the application deadline on March 31st will have to wait until September to apply for this benefit.

The government intends to further expand this program to encompass all children under the age of five by late 2025. Nonetheless, critics argue that the current infrastructure is insufficient to meet the escalating demand for childcare services. Despite these concerns, the initiative represents a step towards easing the financial burden on parents and enabling greater workforce participation.

The eligibility criteria for accessing free childcare hours vary depending on factors such as the age of the child and the parents' employment status or receipt of certain benefits. Working parents, for instance, may qualify for 15 hours of free childcare per week for two-year-olds, which has recently become available. Additionally, they can benefit from 15 hours of free childcare for nine-month-olds starting in September 2024 and 30 hours for three and four-year-olds, already in effect, with the coverage set to extend to all under-5s in September 2025.

To be eligible for the newly introduced hours, the majority of parents must fall within a specific income bracket, earning between £8,670 and £100,000 per year. Alternatively, those receiving certain benefits can already access 15 hours of free childcare for two-year-olds and three- and four-year-olds.

Parents seeking to avail themselves of these free childcare hours are advised to apply before the start of the term, when their child becomes eligible. Applications for parents of nine-month-olds for the September term, for example, open on May 12th. Once approved, parents receive a code to provide to their registered childcare provider. It's important to note that the free childcare hours are intended for use over 38 weeks of the year, corresponding to school term time, although some providers may offer flexibility by extending the hours over 52 weeks.

Childcare providers that give free hours will get an increase in their hourly payment from the government, although they may still have to pay for some things like food, diapers, and transportation. Consequently, some providers may impose additional fees for top-up services, which can be a burden for parents' budgets. However, steps are being taken to tackle these problems, such as offering financial incentives to those who want to be babysitters and ensuring that those who do so will be paid. There are also worries about whether there are enough daycare spots to satisfy the increasing demand, even with these efforts.

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Asma Ahmed
Asma Ahmed
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