The government provides the following significant childcare support to parents and carers:
- 15 hours of free childcare a week for all 3 and 4-year-olds, worth around £2,500 a year on average.
- 15 hours of free childcare a week for disadvantaged 2-year olds, i.e. all those families in receipt of Universal Credit, with an annual net earned income equivalent to or less than £15,400; families in receipt of benefits that currently qualify them for free school meals; those receiving working tax credits (with an annual gross household income of no more than £16,190); and children entitled to certain benefits or support for a disability or special educational need, looked-after children and certain children who have been in care, including those who’ve been adopted.
- 30 hours of free childcare a week, for working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds. 30 hours is available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage. This also includes self-employed parents.
- Childcare vouchers provided through some employers, allowing parents to save money by paying for childcare from their pre-tax salary.
- Help with up to 70% of childcare costs for people on low incomes through working tax credits, which in April 2016 increased to 85% through Universal Credit, subject to a monthly limit of £646 for one child or £1108 for two or more children.
- Tax-Free Childcare, for which 1.5 million families who have childcare costs will be eligible. For every £8 parents pay into an online account, the government will pay £2 – up to a maximum contribution of £2,000 per child each year, for children aged under 12. Parents of disabled children will receive extra support (worth up to £4,000 per child, each year and until their child is 17).
It is the responsibility of the local authority to ensure that every child that is eligible for the 15 and 30-hours free childcare entitlement is able to access a place. Local authorities receive the funding from central government in order to provide these places, and in turn, pass the funding they receive on to the front-line providers of childcare service. Local authorities also have a statutory duty to provide parents with information, advice and guidance on their websites about how these childcare offers can be accessed locally.