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One Mumsnet user shares her experience of using 30 hours childcare

Many working parents or carers may be eligible for financial support with childcare, but how can you apply and what benefits could you be entitled to? Find our complete guide here.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Mar 26, 2024

Child at nursery

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Childcare costs can put a strain on families’ budgets that causes parents, especially mums, to question whether it’s financially viable to return to work when their children are so young. 

However, support is available for families through various government schemes, with significant changes being introduced this year.   

So, what financial help could you be entitled to? How do you apply for it and how long could you and your family benefit from the help? Read on to find our full guide to the government’s 30 hours childcare scheme. 

Am I eligible for 30 hours childcare?

  • Currently, all families in the UK with children aged between three and four are eligible for 15 hours childcare. 

  • Eligible working parents or carers of children aged between three and four are entitled to 30 hours childcare. 

To check if you might be eligible, you can head to the Childcare Choices website and use the online eligibility checker. 

Upcoming changes from April

The new childcare changes mean that from April, eligible working parents of two year olds will get 15 hours childcare. From September, this support will then be extended to eligible working families of children aged nine months and up. 

And from September 2025, eligible working families with children aged nine months up to school age will have access to 30 hours childcare.

For example, if you give birth in September 2024, your child will have access to 30 hours childcare from September 2025, enabling parents to return to work or increase their working hours if they want to. 

Each parent will need to individually earn up to £100k adjusted net income per year and each at least the equivalent of 16 hours/week at national minimum wage for their age. 

How does the 30 hours childcare scheme work? 

  • 30 hours per week totals 1,140 hours per year, which covers 30 hours childcare over 38 weeks of the year.

  • You can use your hours at up to two different providers per day, and hours can be accepted at a variety of childcare providers, including nurseries, childminders, and preschools.

  • Some providers will allow you to ‘stretch’ your hours across the year, by using fewer hours over more weeks, giving you more flexibility. 

You may also use the 30 hours childcare if you are claiming Universal Credit Childcare, tax credits, childcare vouchers or Tax-Free Childcare.

Related: Find our complete guide to childcare choices in the UK

To explain exactly how the 30 hours childcare scheme can be accessed for families, and how it can be used alongside Universal Credit Childcare, we asked Mumsnet user Danielle to share her experience of using the two schemes together.

Two children at nursery

You're using 30 hours childcare and Universal Credit Childcare - could you share how these support schemes have helped you provide childcare for your child?

“Before the childcare hours for three to four-year-olds started after my son’s 3rd birthday, my childcare bill was over £750 for four days per week. 

“I was lucky that my mother was able to care for my son one day a week to allow me to work full time without dropping my hours. Universal Credit Childcare covered £646 of this and I had to pay around £140 per month.

“A lot of people don’t realise you can combine the 30 hours childcare and Universal Credit Childcare.”

“Now my son attends five days per week full time. His nursery allows stretched funding over the year so 22 hours is funded and the remainder is billed. My childcare bill is now £535 per month but Universal Credit Childcare reimburses me for £455 and I only have to pay £80 per month towards childcare.” 

Related: Childcare Choices in the UK, a complete guide for parents

As a single parent, how important is childcare assistance for your ability to work? Could you explain how this support has influenced your work-life balance and overall well-being?

“Help towards childcare costs has allowed me to stay employed and also grow in my role. 

“Since returning to work in 2021 after maternity leave, my salary has increased, I’ve taken on training and I’ve learnt so much more than would be possible if I hadn’t returned to work. It also allows me to have interaction with other adults and feel that I’m using my brain and skills!

“Staying at work full time as I have childcare help also means that my pension is protected as well. Deductions from Universal Credit based on your earnings are calculated after your pension contributions are taken from your gross pay(as well as tax and NI). 

“It’s not only improving my son’s prospects but it’s protecting my financial future too.”

Having a three-year-old, can you tell us about your experience with full-day care, like nurseries? What factors influenced your choice of this type of childcare?

“I chose a community nursery for my son as they were able to guarantee that they are open all year round and 8am to 6pm. I work 9am to 5pm, so this fits in with work and the commute perfectly.

“School nurseries are term time only with shorter hours and childminders can take up to six weeks of holiday per year - I wouldn’t have enough annual leave to allow for that. 

“I also prefer a nursery [for my child] as it allows my son to get to know more members of staff and the carers...” 

Is there anything else you believe our readers should know about your experience with childcare and government support as a single parent in the workforce?

“As a single parent, support from the government in terms of childcare has allowed me to feel fulfilled at work and allows me to be a good influence for my son too. 

“I’m proud to break the stereotype that single mothers don’t work and just live off benefits. 

“There is a stigma attached to claiming Universal Credit but there shouldn’t be. It’s there to support those working too.”

How to apply for 30 hours childcare

If you’re eligible like Danielle, you will need to set up a childcare account on GOV.UK and fill out the necessary forms.

You will need to be able to provide your National Insurance number, as well as your child’s date of birth and have a copy of their birth certificate to hand for reference.

Related: How real parents use the 15 hours childcare scheme

You will then get a code that you can share with your childcare provider/s. You’ll need to reconfirm your details every three months to keep receiving government support.

How to apply for Universal Credit Childcare

It’s worth noting that the process for applying for Universal Credit Childcare is different. You will need to talk to your work coach about your options. You can find out more about Universal Credit Childcare on GOV.UK. 

Happy child and dad in background

When to apply for 30 hours childcare

The best time to apply will depend on your child’s third birthday. If your child turns three between: 

  • April 1st to August 31st, you will get your 30 hours childcare to start a place from September 1st onwards. Apply by August 31st.

  • September 1st and December 31st, you will get your 30 hours childcare to start a place from January 1st onwards. Apply by 31st December.

  • January 1st to March 31st, you will get your 30 hours childcare to start a place from April 1st onwards. Apply by 31st March.

Can you use hours across different childcare settings?

You can use the 30 hours across the following childcare providers:

  • Registered nurseries and nursery classes

  • Registered playgroups/playschemes and pre-schools

  • Schools

  • Registered childminders and nannies, including those from a childminder or nanny agency

  • Home care workers working for a registered home care agency

Some families, depending on their childcare needs and schedules, can use their hours at up to two different providers per day, and hours can be accepted at a variety of childcare providers, including nurseries, childminders, and preschools.

What isn’t covered by the 30 hours?

It can differ from one childcare provider to the next but you may have to pay for extra costs like meals, nappies or trips. Should you need access to these, speak to your childcare provider to arrange. 

Can I still receive Tax-Free Childcare with the 30 hours scheme?

Tax-Free Childcare can be used to help with childcare costs for school holiday clubs, breakfast or after school clubs, childminders, or nurseries. 

You could get up to £2,000 a year per child off your childcare bills for children up to the age of 11, or £4,000 a year up to the age of 16 if your child has a disability.

For every £8 paid into a Tax-Free Childcare account, you automatically receive a top up from the government of £2.

You can still receive this support alongside the 30 hours.

Can I still receive Universal Credit Childcare with the 30 hours scheme?

Families claiming Universal Credit Childcare in England, Scotland, and Wales can still claim alongside the 30 hours childcare scheme (Northern Ireland has separate arrangements).

You can qualify for Universal Credit Childcare if your child is 17 and under and both parents are working or fall under one of the allowable exceptions. With this support, up to 85% of costs of childcare can be reclaimed. 

Alongside the 30 hours childcare for her children, Mumsnet user Danielle also claimed Universal Credit to help cover a significant portion of her monthly childcare bill.

“I can continue to claim help towards childcare costs through Universal Credit Childcare whilst my son is in school. This will help towards after school clubs and holiday clubs. 

“Hopefully before he is 16 my salary will increase to the point that I’m no longer eligible for Universal Credit Childcare but without this supporting me with childcare, I wouldn’t be in a position to say that is a possibility.”

Find out more about your eligibility and how to apply at GOV.UK

To find out more about what childcare offers are available, your eligibility and how to apply for these schemes, visit GOV.UK or the Childcare Choices website and explore the options available to you. It's important to make an informed decision about the schemes that work best for your family's needs and budget.