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All three and four year olds are entitled to a free, good quality early education place from the term after their third birthday.

This free early education place runs for two years until the child reaches compulsory school age, in the term after their fifth birthday.  A free early education place can be accessed in maintained school nurseries, private or voluntary sector day nurseries, pre-schools and with registered childminders.

When does my child qualify for their free early education place?

Please note although the actual term dates vary from year to year to accommodate national holidays e.g. Easter, which moves each year, term dates to determine eligibility remain constant.

A child born between Will be eligible for a free place from
1st April - 31st August (inclusive) The start of the autumn term following their 3rd birthday until compulsory school age
1st September - 31st December (inclusive) The start of the spring term following their 3rd birthday until compulsory school age
1st January - 31st March (inclusive) The start of the summer term following their 3rd birthday until compulsory school age

Entitlement

All three-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare from the term after their third birthday. The new entitlement allows parents to claim an additional 15 hours if they each work a minimum of 16 hours per week at the national minimum or living wage, which would make individual earnings of approximately £125+ a week.

This means 30 hours per week during term time (38 weeks) or dependent on the provider, up to 1,140 hours ‘stretched’ over 52 weeks (using fewer hours per week).  If you aren’t entitled you will carry on receiving the free 15 hours of childcare which is available for all families in England.

Eligibility

  • A parent* or both parents are working the equivalent of 16 hours per week at least at the national minimum or living wage
  • A parent or parents earn less than £100,000 per year each, for dual parent households
  • The entitlement extends to those who are self-employed
  • One or both parents are temporarily away from work on maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave
  • One or both parents are temporarily away from work and in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay
  • One parent is in receipt of benefits relating to caring responsibilities or their own disability
  • One parent is employed and one parent is disabled or is incapacitated and receiving specific benefits

*Parent means a person with parental responsibility for the child or care of the child in cases where the parent has remarried or is living with a partner, the step-parent or partner must also meet the earnings threshold.

Flexibility

  • Parents are entitled to access the free entitlement for up to two years before their child reaches compulsory school age (as defined in section 8 of the Education Act 1996.) A year starts on the date the child becomes eligible for free early years provision and subsequent years commence on the anniversary of this date.
  • Parents are entitled to 30 hours per week during term time (38 weeks) or dependent on the provider, up to 1,140 hours ‘stretched’ over 52 weeks (using fewer hours per week).
  • Parents can request access to their entitlement in a particular pattern and the local authority and providers should consider this when securing flexibility.
  • Parents will have a choice of provider, although they may not always be offered the full entitlement at the times they want it at their provider of choice.

Sessions

Childcare providers may not be able to and do not have to, provide the full 30 hours entitlement. But they should offer flexible packages to all parents.

  • Parents can choose to split their child’s entitlement over two providers in any one day
  • Parents can take their offer flexibly between the hours of 6am to 8pm
  • The maximum hours permitted in one day is 10 hours, there are no minimum hours which parents need to access
  • Parents can take their offer on any day Monday to Sunday
  • Parents can choose to take less hours per week and stretch their child’s entitlement over more weeks for example 23.45 hours over 48 weeks of the year, if the childcare provider is able.

In addition:

  • Where parents choose to take up two sessions in one day, it is considered good practice to encourage parents to take up the entitlement across consecutive days.
  • Any additional charges for meals etc. must be agreed with the parent before they take up their child’s place. Providers must also ensure that parents are given the option of providing a packed lunch if it is more affordable.

'Stretched' entitlement

We are able to provide access to 570 or 1140 free hours in fewer hours per week over more weeks of the year.

This can be around:

  • 12 hours a week for 48 weeks of the year for the free 15 hour entitlement
  • 23 hours a week for 48 weeks of the year for the free 30 hour entitlement

If a child moves provision during the year, the funding for the free entitlement will remain for that term with the provider who originally claimed for the child’s free entitlement, funding will then be transferred to the new provider in the following term. This also applies to children moving into Dudley borough from another local authority area.

Children moving to the Dudley borough from another country are entitled to a free place on the same basis as any other child regardless of whether they have British Citizenship.

Providers are required to take any three or four year old or eligible two year old whose parent chooses that provision for a free place, if there are vacancies. This will only apply if no additional staffing is required to meet the minimum staff/child ratios as set out by the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Providers are not permitted to charge ‘top-up’ for any part of the free entitlement as this is free to the parent at the point of delivery. A locally agreed rate of funding is given to the provider by the local authority for each eligible child in their provision.

How to apply

You can apply for the additional entitlement through the parent portal 'Childcare Choices' on the HMRC website, following this we will check your eligibility and verify you for entitlement.  You then need to revisit the parent portal every three months to verify that your eligibility for the 30 hours hasn’t changed.

Application process and ‘grace period’

  • You can apply for the 30 hour entitlement through the parent portal on Childcare choices. When you apply you will be given a temporary code and can use this to check with your Local Authority that you are eligible. Then you will be given a permanent code when you are required to confirm your code.
  • To continue accessing the 30 hours, you will need to verify their eligibility at least every three months via the HMRC parent portal
  • You can choose to take the 30 hour entitlement within a school nursery class, with a private day nursery or pre-school or with a registered childminder
  • Eligible children who are in a school nursery class can receive 30 hours if the school is able to offer a place until they take up a full time place in reception class
  • If you become unemployed you will be permitted a ‘grace period’ whereby your child will still have access to 30 hours entitlement up to six weeks after you have changed circumstances to allow the you time to find new employment. If you are not successful it will revert back to the standard 15 hours entitlement.

Frequently asked questions

What will I need to do to access the additional 15 hours? Families who meet the earnings criteria will make an online application to HMRC; parents will need to provide their National Insurance (NI) number for this.

When can I apply? The application process is not yet available, it is expected to open on April 28 2017. You can find out more and register for updates at www.childcarechoices.gov.uk

What will happen after I apply? Families who make a successful application for the additional 15 free hours will receive an eligibility code from HMRC. This will need to be verified, by your childcare provider, through the council’s childcare team. Information on how to do this will be available here once the portal opens.

What else do I need to do? Parents should be asking their childcare provider if and how they could take 30 hours from September 2017. Some providers may not have availability or be able to offer the full 30 hours in a week, but parents can split funding between two providers.

Do I need to do anything else? Parents receiving 30 hours must validate their additional entitlement every three months via HMRC to continue receiving their additional 15 hours. HMRC will alert parents when they need to validate their entitlement but the it’s the parent’s responsibility to ensure they do so.

What happens if my situation changes and I no longer meet the criteria? If a family no longer meet the criteria, a grace period of six weeks would be given to allow them to find employment/ increase hours etc. If a family did not meet the criteria after the grace period elapsed, they would no longer receive 30 hours but would revert back to the standard 15 hour entitlement.

What do childcare providers need to know?

Some providers may not be in a position to offer above the current 15 hour entitlement and those who can offer the additional hours, must decide if they stay 'term time only' or offer 'stretched' hours over more weeks of the year.

What if I can’t offer 30 hours per week? You will need to let parents know and advise them that they can split their entitlement between two childcare providers. It might be useful to consider partnerships with other providers/ schools so parents and their children can seamlessly share the 30 hours across two providers.

How do I verify eligibility? All three and four year olds will continue to get 15 hours of free childcare. Families who meet the earnings criteria must make an online application to HMRC to confirm eligibility to receive 15 additional hours (totalling 30 hours). Parents can apply when the HMRC portal opens in the spring. Families confirmed eligible will be provided with a code from HMRC which their childcare provider will need to verify with the council’s childcare team.

How do I claim for a child on 30 hours? Providers will need to verify the parent code with Dudley Council’s childcare team before confirming the additional free hours with the parent, details on how to do this will be communicated to providers before the HMRC portal opens. Once the code has been verified you will then submit a claim to the council as part of the normal claim process.