Considering returning to work after having children? There are many factors to think about: is there childcare available that suits your working hours? Can you afford the fees?
The Government has recognised there are many stumbling blocks in the path of parents who want to return to work, which is why in 2015, they announced a new Childcare Bill with the aim of making childcare more flexible and affordable. But what exactly is the new offer, who will be eligible and when can you claim it?
What free childcare is available currently?
Parents are entitled to 570 hours a year of free early education or childcare regardless of whether they work or not. This is often taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks, during term-times. The scheme has also been extended to the most disadvantaged 2-year-olds. In 2015, more than 1 million 3- and 4-year-olds and 157,000 2-year-olds took advantage of the 15 hours of free childcare.
Why do we need a new scheme?
Ensuring that staff caring for children are suitably qualified and premises are safe and maintained is not cheap and as a result, neither is childcare. The rising costs, balanced with take-home pay has made childcare unaffordable for many and prevented some parents from being able to work at all. Childcare can also be difficult to access with inflexible opening hours and term-time only facilities, particularly for those working shifts.
What is the new scheme?
The Government plans to offer 30 hours of free childcare per week to working parents of 3- and 4-year-olds in England. It’s hoped the extra entitlement (the original 15 hours will remain a universal entitlement to all 3- and 4-year-olds) will give working parents greater affordable childcare choice and flexibility to balance raising their children with their working lives.
The Government’s Childcare Bill Policy Statement says: ‘Having the right childcare in place will mean more parents can have a genuine choice, security, and peace of mind when it comes to being able to support their family.’
Who will be eligible?
All parents in the household must be working a minimum of the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the National Minimum Wage (NMW). This means parents don’t necessarily have to work 16 hours, but their income must reflect at least 16 hours of work at the current NMW (currently £115 a week). Each individual parent must also earn less than £100,000. Lone parents will be eligible as long as they are also working the equivalent of a minimum of 16 hours per week at the NMW. Parents must live in England as the scheme is only available there.
When is the new scheme starting?
In February 2016 Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah announced that from September 2016 some working parents in 8 select councils - Wigan, Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire - would be able to access 30 hours of free childcare early as part of a pilot scheme. Those 8 councils will be supported by 25 others who will be looking at innovative and flexible ways of delivering the offer and making sure it’s accessible to as many parents as possible.
Options currently being explored include offering free childcare between 6am and 8pm to provide wraparound care for working parents, how to stretch entitlement over the whole year, and how to ensure children with special educational needs or disabilities can access the entitlement. Until the pilot is over and the results analysed, a complete picture of the scheme won’t be finalised, but the full roll-out is expected by September 2017.
Share your views
The Government has launched a public consultation on the extended free entitlement and would like to hear your views on key elements, so click here to have your say! The consultation closes at 5pm on June 6, 2016. Click here to take part in the consultation.