Is my child eligible for free childcare?
As a parent, you want to give your child the best possible start in life. Early education plays a critical role in your child's development and well-being. In the UK, the government offers free childcare for eligible parents to ensure that every child has the best beginning possible.
If you're wondering whether your child is eligible for free childcare, let's take a closer look at the UK education system in the early years:
Free childcare is available for all 3 and 4-year-olds in the UK, including children in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. To be eligible for free childcare, both you and your partner must be working or studying. This means that you must be employed, self-employed, or on a zero-hours contract. You can also be eligible if you are a single parent and you are working or studying.
Some 2-year-olds may also be eligible, depending on certain criteria:
Your 2-year-old can get free childcare if you live in England and get any of the following 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
The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit (or both), and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
2-year-olds can also get free childcare if they:
are looked after by a local authority
have an education, health and care (EHC) plan
get Disability Living Allowance
have left care under an adoption order, special guardianship order or a child arrangements order
You may have to pay for extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.
15-hours free for 3 to 4 year olds
The free childcare entitlement provides 15 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year. This can be used in a range of settings, including nurseries, childminders, and preschools. Some providers may also offer additional hours at a cost. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but you can choose to take fewer hours over more weeks.
30-hours free for 3 to 4 year olds
In addition, there is a new offer for working parents in England, which provides 30 hours of free childcare per week. To be eligible for this offer, both you and your partner must be working, earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage, and earning less than £100,000 per year.
It's important to note that free early education and childcare must be with an approved childcare provider and stops when your child starts in reception class (or reaches compulsory school age, if later). You may have to pay for extra costs like meals, nappies or trips. You can get it from the term after your child’s 3rd birthday.
Teacher with children
If your child is not eligible for free childcare, you can apply for childcare vouchers.
The following schemes are not accepting new applicants:
Childcare directly arranged by your employer with a provider (known as 'directly contracted childcare')
However, if you joined one of these schemes on or before October 4, 2018, you may still be eligible to receive vouchers or directly contracted childcare. To continue receiving these benefits, you must:
Have had your wages adjusted on or before October 4, 2018
Remain with the same employer who continues to offer the scheme
Not take an unpaid career break that lasts longer than a year
You can receive up to £55 of your wages per week, which is exempt from tax and National Insurance contributions. The amount you are eligible to receive depends on your income and the date you joined the scheme.
Group of children
If you are approved for Tax-Free Childcare, you cannot simultaneously receive childcare vouchers or directly contracted childcare. The best option for you depends on your individual circumstances, so it's recommended to use the childcare calculator to determine which form of support is most beneficial.
After receiving Tax-Free Childcare, you have 90 days to notify your employer. They will then discontinue giving you new vouchers or directly contracted childcare. However, any existing vouchers can still be used, including in conjunction with Tax-Free Childcare for a joint payment. There is no expiration date for using your vouchers or directly contracted childcare.
Once you inform your employer that you are using Tax-Free Childcare, you cannot rejoin their voucher or directly contracted childcare program.
Childcare is about providing children with the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop in a safe and nurturing environment. Research shows that children who receive high-quality early education are more likely to succeed in school and in life.
As a parent, you play a crucial role in your child's early education. By choosing a high-quality childcare provider and engaging in your child's learning and development, you can help give them the best possible start in life.
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