What are the eligibility requirements for receiving 15 and 30 hours of free childcare and how can I apply?

Parents of children from nine months old can soon apply for 15 hours of free childcare. The government hopes the scheme will get more parents back to work but there are serious concerns about the number of staff and places needed.

### What free childcare can I get?
Extra help with childcare costs in England is being rolled out in stages, with some free hours already available. The help you can get depends on the age of your child and whether you are working or receiving certain benefits. Here are some of the available options:

– 15 hours free childcare a week for two-year-olds from April 2024
– 15 hours free childcare for nine-month-olds from September 2024
– 30 hours free childcare for three and four-year-olds was already available
– 30 hours free childcare for all under-5s from September 2025

Those on certain benefits can already get 30 hours of free childcare if their partner works or they receive certain benefits.

### How do working parents apply for free childcare hours?
Parents should apply before the start of the term when their child will be eligible. The deadline for free hours for two-year-olds for the summer term has passed. Applications for parents of children from nine months old to 23 months will open on 12 May for the September term. Parents of two, three, and four-year-olds who are eligible for 15 or 30 hours from September can already apply.

### What isn’t covered by the free childcare hours?
The government is increasing the hourly rate it pays childcare providers offering free hours. The Department for Education says all additional costs are voluntary, and parents should be told they can supply their food and supplies to make their childcare entirely free.

### How expensive is UK childcare?
Actual costs can vary significantly depending on where you live. Coram’s 2024 figure represents about 45% of average pay for a full-time worker in the UK.

### Are there enough childcare places?
About 85,000 more childcare places and 40,000 extra staff will be needed by September 2025, according to estimates from the DfE. A National Audit Office report raised concerns about the feasibility of the plan, citing uncertainty and potential impact on the attainment gap between children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

### What childcare help is available in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland?
Although all three and four-year-olds are entitled to some free childcare across the UK, different schemes operate in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Care must be delivered by officially-registered providers in each case.

### What other financial help can parents get for childcare costs?
For every £8 you pay into an online childcare account, the government adds £2, up to £2,000 per child per year, or £4,000 for disabled children. Parents who qualify for free childcare hours can save in the tax-free scheme as well. The Care to Learn scheme offers further help to student parents who are under 20 at the start of their course.

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