Free Childcare Now Available

How You Qualify and How to Recoup Costs

A childminder sitting with four children playing musical instruments
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Jan 03, 2024
5 minutes read

Since yesterday, the free childcare that was announced in last year’s Spring Budget has been available. Working parents in England can now apply for 15 hours of free childcare for their two year old. The offer is only applicable during term time, and from September 2024, babies from nine months old will be eligible too.

Eligibility for 15 Hours of Free Childcare

Two Year Olds

Not everyone will automatically be eligible for free childcare for their two year old. While all three and four year olds can receive 15 hours of childcare for free from a number of private nurseries, state pre-schools or childminders, two year olds don’t yet automatically qualify. Working families will be eligible from April this year.

To be able to receive this childcare for your two year old, you must be receiving any of the benefits outlined below:

  • Income Support

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

  • Universal Credit

  • Child Tax Credit

  • State Pension Credit

You can still qualify if you’re not on benefits. Your two year old can receive 15 hours of free childcare if:

  • They are looked after by the local authority

  • They have special education needs (SEN) or are on an education, health and care (EHC) plan

  • They receive Disability Living Allowance

  • They have left care

Three and Four Year Olds

Unlike two year olds, there are no requirements for three and four year olds. You can receive 15 hours of free childcare for your three year old following their birthday, and this can start in January, April or September (whichever is the closest).

Eligibility for 30 Hours of Free Childcare

As is still the case, working parents in England are able to apply for 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds during term time. This is available for households earning between £8,670 and £99,999 a year. The expectation is that you and your partner must each earn the equivalent of 16 hours’ work at national minimum wage (around £166 a week).

To apply, you need to visit the government website and fill in your details. You will receive a code to give your childcare provider, but this must be done before the start of term.

Extension of Criteria

In March 2023, Jeremy Hunt announced an extension to this scheme to cover younger children. This was going to be released on a phased basis from April 2024 to September 2025.

April 2024

From this month, eligible two year olds can receive 15 hours of free childcare a week during term time. While applications can be submitted already, this needs to be done in plenty of time before term starts.

September 2024

Towards the end of the year, eligible children at least nine months old will receive 15 hours of free childcare a week during term time.

September 2025

Before the end of next year, eligible children between nine months and school age will receive 30 hours of free childcare a week during term time.

These measures were announced in order to allow more people to enter the workplace. Some critics pointed out that only a few tens of thousands of parents would be able to return to work.

Ways to Recoup Costs

Childcare costs for two and three year olds in the UK are an average of 22% of a household’s income. Even if you qualify for free childcare, that only goes so far. What you can do is see if you’re eligible for any money back to offset these costs.

Uniform Tax Rebate

If you have to wear a uniform to work and are expected to clean and maintain it, you can apply for a uniform tax rebate. This is tax back on a flat rate depending on your occupation. While the standard flat rate is £60, the highest is £1,022! Find out what Martin Lewis said about a uniform tax rebate.

Marriage Tax Allowance

If you’ve never claimed Marriage Tax Allowance, you could be eligible for a claim that exceeds £1,000. By backdating, you could receive a max lump sum of £1,256. Here’s all you need to know about Marriage Allowance.

Housing Disrepair

Do you have a landlord that isn’t interested in correcting any problems in your home? You could make a housing disrepair claim against them to legally force them to fix any recurring issues. Depending on how bad the issues are, you may even receive compensation as well.