YOU'RE KIDDING One-week warning for hundreds of thousands of parents ahead of major change to childcare rules

THOUSANDS of parents have just one week to go before applications open for extra childcare help as part of a major expansion.

Ministers are extending free childcare to hundreds of thousands of mums and dads in a three-phase approach.

The Government is massively expanding free childcare provision across England
The Government is massively expanding free childcare provision across EnglandCredit: Alamy

The expansion was announced in the Government's Spring Budget last March.

Eligible working parents of two-year-olds have been able to apply for 15 hours free childcare since April.

Thirty hours free childcare will be available to working parents of children aged nine months to three years old from September 2025.

Phase two, the latest phase, will see 15 hours free childcare extended to eligible working parents of children aged nine months to three years old, with applications opening on May 12.Prior to the rollout of the expanded childcare offer, parents could only claim 15 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds in England.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own schemes.

The Government says parents using the full 30 hours free childcare from September 2025 will save £7,000 a year.

It is also providing funding directly to childcare providers instead of parents.But an investigation by The Sun previously revealed several nurseries have brought in new compulsory fees for food and admin costs at the same time extra free hours were introduced.

It comes after nurseries warned they may have to increase fees or close due to the additional free childcare rollout.They say this is because the Government doesn't provide as much funding as they would charge parents directly.

How can I apply for free childcare?

You can apply for 15 hours free childcare from when your child is one year and 36 weeks old.

Meanwhile, you can apply for 30 hours from when your child is two years and 36 weeks old.

Once you've applied via the website you'll be issued a code which you have to give to your childcare provider alongside your National Insurance number and child's date of birth.

You have to apply for a code by the end of the month before a new term starts.

For example, if the term starts on September 1 you need to apply by August 31.

You should also check with your provider the exact date your free childcare kicks in.

It should take around 20 minutes to apply for a code, and can take up to seven days to find out if you've qualified.

The code will be sent to you once your application has been approved.

You have to reconfirm your eligibility for free childcare every three months on your online account.

Therefore, if you are a working parent of a nine-month-old and applying for 15 hours free childcare around the May 12 date, you may need to reconfirm your code to ensure you can start using your free hours from September.

Who classes as a working parent?

WORKING parents can claim free childcare hours, but who classes as one?

A working parent is one who is earning at least a minimum amount, depending on their age.

For example, if you're 21 or over, you must be earning the equivalent of £183 a week.

If you're 18-20, you must be earning £137 a week, and for parents under 18, this figure drops to £102 a week.

This is the equivalent of the working 16 hours a week on average on the National Minimum or Living Wage.

What other childcare help is available?

Free childcare for two-year-olds for those on benefits

Parents living in England and claiming any of the below benefits can access some free childcare for two-year-olds:

  • Income support
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit (where household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments)
  • Tax credits (where household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax)
  • Pension Credit (guaranteed element)

Two-year-olds can also get free childcare if they:

  • Are looked after by a local authority
  • Have an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • Get disability living allowance
  • Have left care under an adoption order, special guardianship order or a child arrangements order

You may have to pay for extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.

Tax-free childcare

Those not on Universal Credit or Tax Credits might qualify for tax-free childcare.

For every £8 you pay into the account, the Government will pay you £2.

You can get up to £500 from the Government every three months - up to a maximum of £2,000 a year - for each of your children.

If your child is disabled, you can claim more - £1,000 every three months, up to £4,000 maximum per year.

Anyone eligible can sign up by creating an online childcare account via the Government's website.

You can claim tax-free childcare at the same time as 15 or 30 hours free childcare hours.

Child benefit

You can get child benefit if you're responsible for a child aged under 16, or if they are under 20 and in approved education or training.

Child benefit is currently worth £25.60 a week for the eldest child or only child. For each subsequent child, parents get £16.95 a week.

The cash is paid every four weeks and there's no limit to how many children you can apply for.

Bear in mind though, those who earn more than £60,000 a year have to start paying back some of their child benefit through the High Income Child Benefit Charge (HICBC).

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