30 hours free childcare – reconfirming your eligibility

Did you successfully apply for the autumn term this September? Then you were one of over 200,000 eligibility codes issued for children who were aged three by 31 August 2017. However - only 71% of these were validated by early September.

You’ll need to reconfirm your eligibility every 3 months in order to continue to receive your extra hours. See the ‘Reconfirming your eligibility’ section later in this blog for more information.

Applying for 30 hours free childcare for the first time - upcoming application deadlines

Parents can apply and have their eligibility checked for 30 hours free childcare via the Childcare Service . If you plan to apply for 30 hours free childcare in the next few months, here are some things you need to know:

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And here are the application deadlines for your diary:

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What happens after I’ve applied?

If you’re eligible, you’ll be given a 30 hours eligibility code. Take this 11-digit code, along with your National Insurance number and your child’s date of birth, to your chosen childcare provider.

The provider will use the Department for Education’s Eligibility Checking System (ECS) to confirm the validity of the code either directly, or via their Local Authority. Once the 30 hours code has been validated via the ECS, you’ll be able to take up your 30 hours place.

 

Reconfirming eligibility

You should be prompted every 3 months to reconfirm your eligibility through your childcare account and amend any details if necessary, or just press ‘reconfirm’ if nothing has changed.

You may also need to reconfirm your place with your childcare provider each term.

 

What if I’m no longer eligible?

On reconfirmation, if you’re no longer eligible for 30 hours you’ll enter a grace period where you can still retain your childcare for a short period of time.

›      A child who becomes ineligible during the first half of a funding block should be funded until the end of that funding block.

›      A child who becomes ineligible in the latter half of the funding block should be funded until the end of the following funding block.

 

For more information: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/642828/30_hours_free_childcare_eligibility_codes_issued_and_validated.pdf

* 30 hours free childcare applies to England only.

Tax-Free Childcare opens to children under 6 years old

When Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) first launched it was only offered to parents of children who were under 4 years of age on 31 August 2017.

From 24 November 2017, parents whose youngest child is under 6 (or who has their 6th birthday on that day) can also apply for TFC through the government's Childcare Choices website.

Over the coming months TFC will open to parents of older children (up to 12 years old only) and government has also promised to make further improvements to the online application system, which has seen some issues.

This means almost all parents should receive a response within five working days, and most get their decision instantly.

If you’re not sure whether you’d be better off with TFC or childcare vouchers, take our interactive Decision Tree and find out.

How to apply for 15/30 hours free childcare

The Free Early Education Entitlement currently offers 15 hours of early education for 38 weeks each year. This is available to all three- and four-year-old children and the most disadvantaged two-year-olds in England.

This universal offer for three- and four-year-olds was extended to 30 hours for children of working parents in September 2017.

While the universal entitlement is focused on supporting child development, the government aim of this extension is that “Additional free childcare will help families by reducing the cost of childcare and will support parents into work or to work more hours should they wish to do so”.

Apply by 31 December to get a code to use for the term starting in January.

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  • Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) and 15/30 hours free childcare are two separate government schemes, but they use the same online application process
  • You can apply for 15/30 hours free childcare and apply for/continue to receive childcare vouchers through your employer
  • You don’t have to apply for TFC to be eligible for the 15/30 hours free childcare
  • You can’t receive both TFC and childcare vouchers within your family
  • Analysis by Employers for Childcare shows that the majority of working families will be better off with childcare vouchers, tax credits or a combination of both, rather than TFC

* The first 15 hours of free childcare is available to all families. The additional 15 hours (to make 30 in total) is only available to working families who each earn between £6,240 and £100,000 a year.

Check what help you could get with your childcare costs, and which support might be best for you, using the childcare calculator.

Find out more about similar schemes in Scotland - external linkWales - external link / Cymru - external link, and Northern Ireland.

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For families in England, receiving some forms of supportWith 2-year-old children15 hours of free childcare or early education a week.png

Maternity leave / shared parental leave and childcare vouchers – your questions answered

Recently, with the childcare voucher scheme closing to new entrants from 6 April 2018, we’ve had a few calls from parents asking how maternity leave / shared parental leave affects childcare vouchers.

A main area of confusion is the need to receive a voucher in every rolling 12-month period in order to remain eligible for childcare vouchers.

Depending on your employer’s scheme rules, this may mean you can’t take the full 12 months maternity leave if you want to remain on the scheme.

A possible way around this is to ask your employer if they’re willing to fund a childcare voucher as part of a ‘Keep in touch’ day during your maternity leave. This can be for the minimum amount - with Computershare it’s £20.

If you become ineligible for childcare vouchers after April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option, assuming you’re eligible. (You won’t be able to re-join your employer’s childcare voucher scheme as it will have closed to new entrants.)

(Shared parental leave (SPL) is unlikely to be affected in the same way as maternity leave as the SPL will be split into two parts.)

Here are answers to other baby-related questions we get asked on a regular basis:

 

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You need to receive a voucher in every rolling 12-month period in order to remain eligible for childcare vouchers. If you’re on an enhanced maternity leave / shared parental leave package, there may be sufficient funds to continue paying for the childcare vouchers from your salary.

If you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), many employers will continue to pay for your childcare vouchers - you’re not allowed to salary sacrifice your SMP or ShPP for a childcare voucher. But some employers may ask you to stop your order.

A possible way around this is to ask your employer if they’re willing to fund a childcare voucher as part of a ‘Keep in touch’ day during your maternity leave. This can be for the minimum amount - with Computershare it’s £20. If you become ineligible for childcare vouchers after April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option, assuming you’re eligible. (You won’t be able to re-join your employer’s childcare voucher scheme as it will have closed to new entrants.)

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As this is your first baby you can’t apply until the child is born.

You can register for childcare vouchers once the baby is born, providing this is before the childcare voucher scheme closes to new entrants in April 2018.

Your partner, if you have one, can also register for childcare vouchers as soon as your child is born, providing their employer runs a childcare voucher scheme too.

If your child is due after April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option (assuming you’re eligible) as your employer’s childcare voucher scheme will have closed to new entrants.

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Since this isn’t your first child, you and your partner can apply for childcare vouchers today.

Childcare vouchers can be stored in your electronic childcare account to be used as and when you need them – for any child up to the age of 15, and for any registered carer. Many parents build up an account balance before they start using registered childcare.

As long as you register for childcare vouchers and place an order prior to 6 April 2018 (when the scheme closes to new entrants) - and place an order in every rolling 12-month period, you and your partner will remain eligible for childcare vouchers.

If you don’t register on your employer’s childcare voucher scheme before April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option (assuming you’re eligible) as your employer’s childcare voucher scheme will have closed to new entrants.

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The short answer is ‘yes’ but it’s best to check with your employer as their scheme rules can vary and this could impact your eligibility.

  • If you’re on an enhanced maternity leave / shared parental leave package, there may be sufficient funds to continue paying for the childcare vouchers from your salary
  • If you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), many employers will continue to pay for your childcare vouchers - you’re not allowed to salary sacrifice your SMP or ShPP for a childcare voucher. But some employers may ask you to stop your order.
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Yes, but you need to ensure that you both place at least one order for vouchers in every rolling 12-month period to remain eligible for the childcare voucher scheme. This can simply be for the minimum amount - with Computershare it’s £20.

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There’s lot of eligibility criteria for TFC, so we recommend you use our Decision Tree to see if you (and your partner, if you have one) are eligible in the first instance.

Assuming you’re eligible for both schemes, and to give yourself the luxury of time, we recommend that you and your partner, if you have one, register for childcare vouchers and place an order before 6 April 2018.

You can then take your time working out which scheme is best for you and your family – but it’s important to remember that that once you join TFC and officially cancel your childcare vouchers by completing a Childcare Account Notice (CAN), you can’t switch back to childcare vouchers.

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In March 2016 an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled employers do not have to provide childcare vouchers during maternity leave when offered through salary sacrifice, providing this is covered in their scheme rules.

As a result some (but not all) employers updated their scheme rules to allow them to stop childcare vouchers during maternity leave, so it’s best to check with your employer as their scheme rules can vary.

And finally….

Always remember your partner can receive vouchers whilst you are on maternity leave / shared parental leave, provided they’ve joined their employer’s scheme and placed an order before 6 April 2018.

For information about maternity pay / shared parental pay and leave visit the Money Advice Service.

For more information about Tax-Free Childcare visit www.giveyourselfachoice.com.

Still unsure about something? Feel free to ask a question in the comments and we’ll get right back to you!

NB We updated this blog post on 19 February 2018 to reflect changes made by the government. As well as updating the closing date of childcare vouchers to 6 April 2018, we also removed any mention of 'advance ordering' childcare vouchers, as this is no longer possible.

Problems with key free childcare website probed

Problems with one of the government's key websites have been referred to Chair of the Treasury Committee Nicky Morgan, who has demanded an explanation from Revenue and Customs, which runs the site.

Technical issues have meant that parents are unable to open accounts for the government's new 30-hour childcare scheme, meaning that they can't pay their childcare providers. Providers have also been affected, with some of them unable to register, and therefore unable to fill their spaces.

From the Independent: “It’s concerning that some parents have struggled to apply for childcare funding due to technical issues with the Government’s childcare service website,” Nicky Morgan said.

“To make matters worse, it appears that the childcare service helpline, for parents suffering problems with the website, is also experiencing technical difficulties.“

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, representing 14,000 providers, described the problems as “unacceptable”.

Read the full article.

Everything you need to know about TFC explained by MoneySavingExpert.com

If you're looking for a thorough explanation of all things Tax-Free Childcare, then look no further. This article from MoneySavingExpert.com explains everything you need to know, including what the scheme is, how it works, and the eligibility criteria. It also has a really handy infographic explaining how TFC compares to Childcare Vouchers.

If you're confused about TFC, and unsure whether you'll be better off with TFC or Childcare Vouchers, it's a great place to start.