30 hours free childcare

7. Access to free childcare

The total hours that you can access across a year are shown below. You should speak to your childcare provider about how they offer the free hours and think about what works for you.

15 hours free childcare
(all 3 and 4 year olds)
30 hours fee childcare (15 hours free plus
additional 15 hours for eligible families)
570 hours per year 1,140 hours per year
15 hours per week over 38 weeks 30 hours a week over 38 weeks
12 hours per week over 47.5 weeks 24 hours a week over 47.5 weeks
11.17 hours per week over 51 weeks 22.35 hours over 51 weeks

Please note: Childcare providers may choose to offer the free hours in different ways and may not be able to be fully flexible. In some cases childcare providers may not able to offer all of the free hours on the days or times you need them.

You can choose to access your free childcare with different providers – this will help you to find a childcare solution that works for you. Settings that only operate term time will often work in partnership with settings operating all year round so you can split the free hours between different providers across a day, week or year to meet your needs.

Speak to your childcare provider to find out how you can take up the free hours and if/how they work in partnership with other settings, if the provider is unable to meet your specific childcare requirements.

If you find it difficult to access the childcare provision you need, contact our Family Information Service and they will discuss your options and help find a solution that helps.

The hours should be free to access 

Both the 15 hours and 30 hours should be free to access. That means that if you only want to access the free hours you should not have to pay for any additional services or hours that you don’t want or need. This is often described as conditions. Providers are not allowed to place conditions on parents who only want to access a free place.

Example 1 – meals and snacks

If a childcare provider offers a lunch as part of their package they have the right to charge for this service. You should however be given the choice to make an alternative arrangement if you do not want to pay for this as it is an additional service. In most cases this would mean your child taking a packed lunch instead of paying for lunch. This would avoid any additional charge and allow a parent to access their 30 hours without incurring any additional costs to access their place.

Example 2 - paying for additional hours

Childcare providers are not allowed to place a condition on parents to make them pay for additional hours if they do not want to access them. If you just want to access 30 hours a week, there should be no requirement for you to purchase additional hours at the setting if you do not need them. This means there should be no extra cost to accessing the free hours that you want to access.

Example 3 – lunchtimes and artificial breaks

Parents who are eligible and want to access the 30 hours should not be required to pay for a lunch time session if they are not able to collect their child in between the morning and afternoon sessions. Care over the lunch time period should be included in the free hours, as it is difficult for working parents to manage this time.

Charged sessions should be at the start or end of the day to give greater flexibility to parents managing their childcare arrangements around working hours and other commitments. 

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