The Act became law on 16 March. It makes 30 hours of free childcare for qualifying parents of three- and four-year-olds a legal right.
The Act extends the current 15 hours entitlement to 30 hours free childcare over 38 weeks of the year.
Children will qualify at the start of the school term following their third birthday.
Under the act, local authorities must publish information about free childcare in an area at yearly intervals on the internet and in other forms.
At bill stage, the legislation was attacked by a House of Lords Committee. Schools minister Lord True, whose wife runs a Montessori nursery, said powers provided for in the bill could lead to ‘effective state control of the whole sector by the back door’.
A section of the Act refers to checking whether a child is a qualifying child of working parents and says that people could be imprisoned for up to two years if this is not done in an 'authorised' manner.
He said, ‘I am troubled to see, in the Bill, proposed criminal penalties... Penalties on whom? Would nursery teachers be sent to jail for up to two years, as the bill allows, if they fail to find out the whole truth about the private affairs of every one of their parents?
Parents will be providing personal details and information to HMRC in applying for the extended entitlement online via the joint childcare application. The government says that it has legislated for a criminal offence to ensure that parents’ information is not used or disclosed in a way that it shouldn’t and mirrors existing criminal offence provisions in relation to the existing early education entitlements for 2, 3 and 4 year olds
It says the legislation applies to those with access to the information disclosed by parents, such as the Department for Education and councils. It adds it does not anticipate that childcare providers would ever be in a position to commit any criminal offence which could result in 2 years imprisonment and a fine of £3,000.
The Local Government Association secured the removal of clauses that would have given the Secretary of State power to dictate the times and type of local childcare provision that must be available. Instead this will be achieved through regulations agreed by Parliament.
Several peers also took issue with the timetable of the bill’s passage through Parliament, pointing out that they would not see the results of the funding review until after the bill had passed through the House of Lords.
The Childcare Act can be accessed here
Additional information, including on what constitutes qualifying parents, can be found here
Parents qualify for the childcare where both work (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage and less than £100,000 per year.