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30 Hours Free Childcare – When Free Isn’t Always Free

From September 2017, some 3 to 4-year-olds will qualify for 30 hours free childcare. But be warned, this isn’t as great as it sounds.

Anybody that has young children knows that it can be a real struggle juggling childcare and work. Even if you don’t work, having somebody else look after your child for a short time can provide some much-needed respite.  Until recently, every family qualified for 15 hours worth of free childcare for their 3 or 4-year-old. However, in March 2017, the Government announced that they would be doubling the number of free childcare hours available for working families to 30.

Who qualifies for 30 hours free childcare?

To qualify you (and your partner) must

  • each expect to earn at least £120 a week or work more than 16 hours at the National Living Wage (unless you became self-employed less than 12 months ago), or each expect to earn at least £113 a week or work more than 16 hours at the National Minimum Wage (unless you became self-employed less than 12 months ago)
  • each expect to earn at least £61.92 a week if you’re under 18, £84.80 a week if you’re aged 18-20 or £52.80 a week if you’re an apprentice (either under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship)
  • your child attends a participating nursery, childminder, playgroup or Sure Start Children’s Centre.

When and where can you apply?

Taken from the government website:

Child’s birthdayWhen you can claim
1 January to 31 MarchThe beginning of the summer term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 AugustThe beginning of the autumn term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 DecemberThe beginning of the spring term on or after 1 January


Your child was born on 15 February 2013 and will turn 3 on 15 February 2016. You can get free childcare from 1 April 2016.

When you’re ready to apply, follow this link.

Sounds great

Well, it does sound like a great idea. Parents are encouraged to work more, which stimulates the economy and earns the Government more in tax. In-turn, child care providers will be in more demand and so will earn extra. Everybody is happy. Well, not quite.

The website

I’m not sure who the Government hires to create its websites, but they rarely run smoothly. There have been plenty of reports from people who have struggled to apply due to various problems with the site or their account. In fact, there have been over 1000 official complaints already.

The real costs

In all its wisdom, the Government has underestimated how much providers charge for care. For example, in Kent, the Government will provide £3.96 for each hour. Nearly all care providers charge more than this at between £4 and £5 per hour. This means that all care givers will have to take a pay cut.

Imagine if you ran a nursery with 20 children and charged £4.50 per hour. The Government scheme would mean a loss of 54 pence per child per hour. Over a six hour day, the nursery would lose £64.80, meaning a loss of £324 per week. That’s the equivalent of one member of staff.

What are care givers doing about it?

To meet the loss in pay, providers are having to think more creatively. That means charging for things that were once free. So don’t be surprised to receive a bill for lunch, snacks or trips out. Childminders may even look at charging for even smaller items such as the use of baby wipes or nappy sacks.

So, please don’t get angry if you start getting charged for extras. Remember, the 30 hours free childcare generally means a pay cut for the providers.

Visit the Government website to find out further details.

Why not take a look at how to find help towards the cost of school uniform? Or take a look at my Kids Pass review for ways to save money on days out and shopping.

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