Applications open soon for the expanded Free Childcare offer for 2 year olds living in England

As announced in the Budget in March 2023, from April 2024 the first stage of the expansion of the Government’s free childcare offer will see eligible working parents of two-year-olds in England receive 15 hours free childcare per week. Applications for this first stage of the roll out will open on 2 January 2024.

This free childcare will be available to parents who work and earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the National Minimum or National Living Wage, and earn less than £100,000 adjusted net income per year. This is the same earnings criteria as the current 30 hours free childcare per week for children aged three to four.

When and how should I apply for free childcare?

Applications for this new free childcare offer will open on 2 January 2024. Parents living in England can apply via Childcare Choices which also has more information on the exact criteria, for example if parents work irregular hours or are receiving certain benefits.

Parents will be asked to reconfirm that they are still eligible for the support every 3 months. It is recommended that those eligible apply between mid-January and the end of February so that parents won’t need to reconfirm eligibility before taking up a place.

There will then be further expansions of the free childcare places in England, firstly from September 2024, 15 hours of free childcare will be extended to all children from the age of nine months and then from September 2025, working parents of children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week. More information on these will be available in the coming months.

What if I live in other regions of the UK – Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Scotland and Wales have not yet announced an expansion to their current free childcare schemes which are broadly similar to the 30 hours free childcare available in England. This may change in the future. More information is available here, for Wales and for Scotland.

Northern Ireland does not have a free childcare scheme similar to those mentioned above available in the rest of the UK, but does offer funded pre-school places of 12.5 hours or 22.5 hours per week for children in their final year before entering primary school. Online applications for the 2024-2025 school year open at 12 noon on Tuesday 9 January 2024 and close at 12 noon on Friday 26 January 2024. Detailed information on how to apply and each pre-school’s admissions criteria is available here.

Further information

We would encourage all parents, whatever part of the UK they live in, to make sure they are receiving all the financial support they are entitled to with their childcare costs, at whatever stage their children are at, and to check regularly that they are receiving the best form of support for their family.

If you would like further advice on help with childcare costs or wish to find out more about what financial support you may be entitled to, contact our Family Benefits Advice Service for free, impartial and confidential advice. Call us on 028 9267 8200 or email – we are here to help.