What is the 30 hours?
The 30 hours, commonly called the 30 hours of free or funded childcare, is a Government subsidy to childcare providers. It is for parents of 3 and 4-year-olds in England.
The subsidy is for 30 hours of taxpayer-funded childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year – a theoretical total of 1,140 childcare hours per child per year.
The 30 hours is actually two policies: a 15 hours universal entitlement, which was introduced in 2010, which is for all families of 3 and 4 year olds, and an additional 15 hours, for which parental eligibility criteria apply. Childcare providers will provide early years care and education that follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework across the whole 30 hours.
When was it introduced?
It was piloted from September 2016 and introduced in England in September 2017.
Who is eligible for the ‘extra’ 15 hours?
Both parents must each expect to earn (on average) the equivalent of working 16 hours a week at the national minimum wage. Parents lose eligibility when they earn £100,000 each or more. Single working parents are also eligible, as are people on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or those unable to work because of disability or caring responsibilities.
When can parents take 30 hours?
In theory, any day of the week, even weekends, any time between 6am and 8pm. There is no minimum session length, and a single session cannot exceed 10 hours.
Some providers will allow the offer to be ‘stretched’ over 52 weeks, using fewer hours per week.
Parents don’t have to take all of their 30 hours either. They could opt for, for example, 25 hours per week under the scheme instead.
How can parents claim their 30 hours?
A child can start in their 30 hours place the term after they turn three. Their parents must also have received a unique 30 hours code, whichever is later. Term start dates are 1st September, 1stJanuary and 1st April.
Applications for both the 30-hour offer and tax-free childcare are made using a single application available on the Government website The Childcare Service. For 30 hours, parents must apply the term before they plan to start receiving it. They then receive their 11-digit code which they take to their chosen provider.
Parents must re-confirm, using an online system, their eligibility every three months.
What is not covered?
Meals, other consumables (such as nappies or sun cream), additional hours or additional activities (such as trips). Providers may charge a fee for these. Most providers are: according to a survey by the Pre-School Learning Alliance from January 2018, only around a third (35%) of childcare providers are delivering 30 hours places ‘completely free’ to all parents, with a further 36% delivering fully free places to some, but not all, parents and 28% of providers delivering no fully free places.
So it’s not free then?
The Department for Education stipulates that parents must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 30 hours place, and must be offered alternative options to meals such as bringing their own packed lunch.
In practice, though, many* providers say that the level of Government funding they receive per child does not cover their costs, which is why some providers charge for these 'extras' and some don’t offer the scheme at all.
Can all childcare providers offer the scheme?
No. Nannies, even Ofsted-registered ones, can’t. An early years provider will receive 30 hours funding via their local council if they have a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ grade from Ofsted (those with a lower grade will only be able to provide free places at the discretion of their local authority.)
Nurseries, pre-schools, childminders and schools with nursery classes, as well as children’s centres, after-school clubs and playgroups, can all offer the scheme.
Can parents use more than one provider?
Yes. Parents can use up two different providers per day, e.g. a childminder and daycare nursery.
Why aren’t all providers offering 30 hours?
Like the 15-hour offer, the 30-hour scheme is optional for childcare providers, many of whom are private businesses.
Those who don't offer it may not do so because the level of funding they receive from the government is not enough to cover the cost of delivering places*, or because they do not have enough staff to deliver the extended offer.
Funding for the scheme is also fixed until 2020, even though the costs that childcare providers face – like food costs, staff wages and other business costs – are increasing.
Who are the winners and losers from the policy?
The 30 hours will undoubtedly benefit parents who are entitled to it. The Government says the policy saves up to 390,000 families around £5,000 per year per child. Analysis commissioned by the Resolution Foundation from Nursery World found that while all parents will benefit, only the richest parents – who spend the most on childcare – will make these sorts of savings.
The worst-off families (who earn under 16 hours per week at the minimum wage) will not be eligible.
There are fears that the policy has unintended consequences relating to disadvantaged children. An NAHT study showed the offer has ‘displaced’ more disadvantaged three- and four-year-olds entitled to only the 15 hours. Places for disadvantaged 2 year olds, for whom there is also a free entitlement scheme, have also been hit in some parts of the country.
* 62 per cent of respondents to a Pre School Learning Alliance survey in 2017/18 said their rate was less that their hourly fees for parents, and less than the hourly costs of providing a funded place.
The Treasury Committee recently called for the policy to be better funded.