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Date announced for second phase of free childcare applications

Applications for the second phase of free childcare in England will open on 12 May, the government has announced today (Friday 15 March).

From that date, eligible working parents of children from 9 months old will be able to register to access 15 hours of government-funded childcare a week, with the offer beginning from September 2024.

The government said the rollout will see hundreds of thousands of parents access support with childcare costs for the first time, saving parents using the full 30 hours from September 2025 nearly £7,000 a year and the government is continuing to support providers and parents to plan ahead and prepare for the next phase of the rollout.

Childminders are a key part of the childcare market, and the government said this is why it is taking steps to increase childminder numbers and offer more flexible childcare to parents.

A new consultation launched today will ask childminders, parents, providers and local authorities for their thoughts on how government can further support more childminders to join and stay in the profession.

Proposed changes include local authorities paying childminders monthly if they request it so they can better manage their finances – an option that could be extended to other early years providers if supported.

To give providers the confidence to invest in expanding, and communicate places available to parents locally, the government has also announced today that all 153 local authorities have now shared rates for the new entitlements starting in April.

This forms part of the government’s long-term commitment to give working families a brighter future, and will come off the back of the launch of the 15 hours for eligible working parents of two-year-olds, with over 150,000 children initially set to benefit from this transformative offer in April, according to the government.

The government said this is one of its initiatives to increase the number of staff and places across the sector, including a recently launched national recruitment campaign and an over £400 million additional investment to uplift funding rates in 2024-25.

As announced in last week’s Spring Budget, the government said it will ensure that local authorities confirm local funding rates within eight weeks of the government publishing national average rates from next year.

National average rates paid by the government for the new entitlements have been independently confirmed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies to be well above market rates.

Places will be available for September in every area of the country, but a significant minority of settings hold waiting lists over six months, so parents are encouraged to act now to secure their place for September if they have a preferred provider.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Last year, we committed to delivering the largest ever expansion of childcare that England has ever seen. And with over 150,000 children about to begin accessing a government-funded childcare place in just over two weeks, it’s clear our plan is working. 

“This government has a track record of transforming childcare, with the offer of 30 hours for three and four-year-olds for eligible working parents introduced in 2017.

“We are now going further, giving hard working parents of under threes the certainty they deserve to balance growing their families with a successful and rewarding career, saving parents up to an average of £6,900 a year for the full 30 hours.”

Success of the initial launch will give parents of younger children, like Sloane and Harry Tatham, the confidence to plan and begin considering their childcare options for September.

Sloane and Harry both work in the early years and education sector, and have to carefully co-ordinate their childcare to make sure their busy days run smoothy.

Their eldest son attended nursery full time until starting school, and they will be taking up the 15 hours from September for their little girl.

To ensure parents secure a place for September, they should check their eligibility at childcarechoices.co.uk today, read up on the application process on the Department for Education’s Education Hub, and reach out to their local provider to secure a physical place for their child ahead of time.

The application system requires parents to reconfirm their eligibility for Tax Free childcare and 15/30 government-funded hours childcare every three months. Parents who are already claiming Tax Free childcare and need to reconfirm their eligibility between 1 April and 12 May, prior to the new offer opening, will automatically be issued a code in the post by HMRC soon after applications open.

Local authorities are continuing to work closely with providers to make sure there are enough places for those who need them.

Parents can apply for codes for September until 31 August, and the government has urged providers to communicate available government-funded places as soon as possible.

In the event that some providers may ask for codes ahead of August, the government has been clear that no provider should set deadlines for September childcare codes earlier than 31 July 2024.

Parents with concerns about finding a place are urged to contact their local authorities.

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