All YOUR questions answered as we take a closer look at the radical childcare costs policies announced in the Spring Budget
'The 30 hours childcare offer will now start from the moment maternity or paternity leave ends.'
That was the message from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as he announced a series of childcare policy changes in the Spring Budget on Wednesday 15 March.
It means for the first time ever , babies will be included in a free childcare policy. The government acknowledged childcare costs are a barrier to parents (mostly women) returning to work, with the Chancellor saying women returning to work is key to growing the economy.
And, also for the first time, childcare was recognised by the government as 'critical infrastructure' for the economy, with the new policy giving parents of a 2 year old a package worth around £6,500 per year, on average.
However, the new policy cannot be rolled out immediately, and will take time to come into effect.
When will the 30 hours free childcare be available?
The 30 free hours of childcare offered in term time to working parents will be available from babies aged 9 months and above. It's currently only offered to eligible parents of 3 and 4 year olds.
This is when the new policy will take effect:
- 15 hours free childcare for children aged 2 years old – from April 2024
- 15 hours free childcare for children aged 9 months - 3 years – from September 2024
- 30 hours free childcare for children aged 9 months - 3 years – from September 2025
Babies born in December 2024 – and aged 9 months in September 2025 – will be the first to take advantage of the extended 30 hours free childcare. And if you're wondering when you'd need to conceive, it's March 2024.
But who is eligible?
Once this new policy is in place, parents will need to meet certain criteria to be eligible.
The eligibility terms have yet to be announced, however it is expected that they will be similar to current guidelines for 3 and 4 year olds. This is currently open to working parents who live in England and each earning at least the National Living Wage for 16 hours a week on average.
If a parent or partner has an expected 'adjusted net income' over £100,000 in the current tax year, the family is not eligible.
Do I need to be working?
Yes, Mr Hunt said during his Spring Budget speech that this would be a scheme for parents working a minimum of 16 hours each.
The full criteria can be found on the government website.
Does it matter how much I earn?
Yes. It's believed the terms for parents of 9 month old babies will be the same as current terms for 3 and 4 year olds which state:
To make use of the scheme, both parents will need to earn at least:
- £1,976 if you’re aged 23 or over
- £1,909 if you’re aged 21 or 22
- £1,420 if you’re aged 18 to 20
- £1,000 if you’re under 18 or an apprentice
This is at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week on average.
Is the 30 hours only available to those on benefits?
No. It's for working parents.
Can I use it for the childminder?
Currently, the free early education and childcare scheme for 3 and 4 year olds does include approved childcare providers, including childminders, and it's thought this new scheme for babies will mirror these rules.
Approved childcare is classed as a:
- registered childminder, nanny, playscheme, nursery or club
- childminder or nanny with a registered childminder agency or childcare agency
- registered school
- home care worker working for a registered home care agency
Why isn't it being rolled out sooner?
The government say it wasn't possible for the new policy to be immediately rolled out because demand for childcare would outweigh supply.
It will help future families. We've broken down what help you are eligible for depending on what age your child is NOW, here.
What other childcare announcements were made in the Spring budget?
Universal Credit childcare increase
The amount that parents on Universal Credit can claim back on childcare will rise from £646 for a single child to £951 (£304 more per month) and from £1,108 for two children to £1,630 (£522 more per month).
Parents on Universal Credit will also have childcare costs paid upfront by the government, rather than in arrears.
The Chancellor also announced wraparound care will be available at all primary schools , so parents can drop their children at school from 8am and pick up at 6pm. Currently only a third of schools offer this.
When it's coming in: by September 2026
Staff ratios in nurseries to increase
The number of children per staff member in nurseries in England will rise from four to five - but the changes will be optional.
Budget stories affecting your family:
- Keep up to date on all things Budget and how it affects YOUR family here
- Why childcare policies don't just help parents
- Wraparound care to be made available for all school-age parents
- Wine set to increase in price
- Energy costs help to extend for families
- Help for families on prepayment meters