What does the 30 hours free childcare support ‘deadline’ highlighted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak mean?

A recent tweet from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has caused confusion for many parents leaving them concerned they will miss out on support towards childcare through the 30 hours free childcare scheme.

Rishi tweet

What childcare support is the Prime Minister referring to and what is the ‘deadline’?

The childcare support referred to in this tweet is 30 hours free childcare which is available in England only (with similar schemes in Scotland and Wales). The deadline referred to is 31 August which is the last day for a parent to have received confirmation of funding for a child starting childcare on 1 September. However, missing this ‘deadline’ does not necessarily mean you will not be eligible to receive this support in the future.

What is 30 hours free childcare and who is eligible?

Working parents of 3 and 4 year olds in England may be entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare, for 38 weeks of the year. This is an additional 15 hours of childcare on top of the 15 hours universal entitlement for all 3 and 4 year olds in England. These hours can also be taken as fewer hours spread over more weeks where the childcare provider offers this as an option.

To be eligible you must live in England, use a childcare provider in England and your child must be at least 3 years old and below compulsory school age. Eligibility will also cease if your child starts in a reception class.

You must be working and earning, or expect to earn, at least the equivalent of 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage and below £100,000 per year. If you have a partner they also must meet this criteria unless they are not working due to an illness or disability, or caring for someone with a disability, or on annual leave, shared parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave. More detailed information on eligibility criteria is available here.

How does the application process work and what is the deadline for applying?

Applications for 30 hours free childcare are managed by HMRC and made through the Childcare Choices website, www.childcarechoices.gov.uk. If you do not have online access applications can also be made through the HMRC Childcare Choices helpline 0300 123 4097.

  • You can apply from when your child is 2 years and 6 months old, but your child cannot access this free childcare they are at least 3 years old.
  • You will be issued with an 11 digit eligibility code from HMRC which you will need to provide to your childcare provider to access the place, along with your child’s date of birth and your national insurance number.
  • Every three months, you’ll need to reconfirm that you’re still eligible for the entitlement. HMRC will send a reminder four weeks before the deadline. You don’t need to update your provider every time you reconfirm, but should notify your provider if eligibility ceases.

The ‘deadline’ referred to in the Prime Minister’s tweet arises because access to 30 hours free childcare does not necessarily coincide with a child’s third birthday, but rather it runs in three funding periods beginning 1 September, 1 January and 1 April. So missing out of eligibility for 1 September will just mean that your eligibility will begin at the start of a later funding period.

  • The deadline for receiving your HMRC Code is the last day of the month before the next funding period starts. For example, to access entitlement from 1 September the code you receive from HMRC must be dated on, or before, 31 August.
  • If you apply and are eligible but are not issued with an HMRC Code by 31 August, the entitlement will be available from the start of the following funding period on 1 January.
  • When your child turns three, at any point in the year, and you have confirmed your eligibility with HMRC and received the code, you can start claiming from the beginning of the next funding period, ie 1 January, 1 April, or 1 September. For example, a child who turns 3 on 15 February would not be able to access the free childcare place until 1 April.

What if I live outside England?

 There are different funded childcare schemes in Scotland and Wales, each with their own eligibility criteria. Northern Ireland does not currently have any free childcare scheme, however there is support towards registered childcare costs available in all parts of the UK through Childcare Vouchers or Tax Credits for existing claimants only and Universal Credit or Tax-Free Childcare for new claimants.

Further information

To find out what support your family is entitled to, depending on where you live, contact Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service. We can do a personalised calculation based on your household circumstances, income, childcare costs and other expenses, to work out what is the best form of support and advise on how to claim. To get in touch on 028 9267 8200 or email hello@employersforchildcare.org.