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Two week warning for parents to avoid mistake costing £2000 in free childcare

Parents have two weeks to avoid a mistake that could cost them nearly £2000 worth of free childcare, as the Department for Education rolls out new childcare entitlements next month.

All working parents will be entitled to 15 hours of free childcare from 1 April under plans announced by the government.

Currently, 30 hours of free childcare a week is offered only to working parents with children aged three to four and earning less than £100,000 a year.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt promised the expansion of childcare support in his 2023 spring Budget, saying: “they amount to the most significant improvements to childcare provision in a decade.”

However, the deadline to apply for free childcare beginning in April is 31 March. If you miss this deadline, you will have to wait until the next deadline of August 31 to apply.

This would also mean you would not start receiving your entitlement until 1 September, potentially missing out on five months of free childcare – worth an average of £1,980.

How do I apply for free childcare?

To apply for free childcare, you and your child must meet certain eligibility criteria. The number of hours of free childcare you can get will vary depending on the age of your child.

If your child is two, you can get up to 15 hours of free childcare. You can apply from when your child is one year and 36 weeks.

If they are aged three to four, you can get up to 30 hours, and you can apply from when your child is two years and 36 weeks.

There are three deadlines to be aware of:

  • Apply by 31 March for free childcare beginning from 1 April (summer term)

  • Apply by 31 August for free childcare beginning from 1 September (autumn term)

  • Apply by 31 December for free childcare beginning from 1 January (spring term)

Unfortunately, if your child turns two or three after a deadline, even if just by one day, you will not be eligible to receive the relevant free childcare entitlement for them until the beginning of the following term.

The DoE recommends applying early, at least by around four weeks before the deadline, to avoid any issues receiving your entitlement code.

If you apply in time but do not receive your code until after the deadline, you will still be able to take up your entitlement and must speak to your childcare provider about this.

If you meet the deadline but are unable to take up a free space due to a technical issue, you may be able to apply for compensation.

From September 2024, the 15 hour free childcare expansion will continue to include children nine months and up.

For full details of eligibility and how to apply, visit the government’s website.