Family Law Solicitor, Heidi Fleming, explains the new childcare laws which are coming into force on 1st September – an essential read for any one with children under four years of age.
At present parents of 3 and 4 year olds receive a contribution equal to 570 hours of free childcare a year, usually broken down to 15 hours a week over 38 weeks of the year – roughly the same as the school year. This is a contribution towards childcare costs at nurseries, playgroups and pre-schools, as well as childminders. Additionally, depending on parental income levels, some 2 year old children may be eligible for free early childcare and education support.
When the new childcare laws come into effect on September 1st the level of support available to working parents effectively doubles to 30 hours per week. To be eligible both parents must be working (or in single parent families the sole parent must work), parents must earn below £100,000 per year and work more than 16 hours a week, meaning that those working for two days a week or less will not qualify – though it is understood that they will still benefit from the current 15 hours free childcare allowance.
However, once the new childcare laws are in place things may not be as straight-forward as parents might wish. While nurseries will not be able to charge for the 30 hours actual care they will be entitled to charge for items deemed as extras, or to seek contributions from parents. At present half of English councils say they are unsure if they will have enough childcare places available once the extended scheme is rolled out. Additionally, some nurseries and childcare providers are warning that the level of subsidies from the government is far below what is actually needed to cover their costs. Consequently some nurseries may levy extra charges for nappies and meals, some may not have the staff or facilities to offer the full 30 hours cover, and some may decide to opt out of the scheme completely.
So whilst the extension of the childcare support scheme is to be applauded in helping lower paid parents back into work, there may be those in some areas who will struggle to find a suitable nursery or childminder for their young ones, and who find that free childcare may not come completely without a financial cost.
To check your eligibility for childcare funding go to: https://www.gov.uk/childcare-calculator