Working parents in England with children aged thee and four can now access 30 hours of free childcare per week as the government has today rolled out its new childcare scheme to the entire country.
The full rollout follows a trial period beginning in Sepember 2016 in Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon, Wigan, and York.
Dorset, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire, and Tower Hamlets followed in April 2017.
The government says around 390,000 families will be able to take advantage of its new scheme, with estimated savings of £5,000 per year, per child.
‘A policy in chaos’
However, critics of the programme have warned of “chaos” ahead and claim the government has not provided enough funds for the scheme to work.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA), for example, points out that the scheme only covers 38 weeks of the year, rather than 52. This means parents will still have to pay for the childcare during school holidays.
It has also expressed doubts that the funding set aside by government will be enough to cover the actual costs incurred by the scheme.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the PLA, says that many parents will now find themselves paying additional fees and charges to supplement this ‘free’ childcare.
“As one of the government’s flagship policies, the launch of the 30-hours offer should have been a day of celebration. Instead, all we have is a policy in chaos,” he says.
“The government’s total refusal to tackle, or even acknowledge, the fundamental problem of early years underfunding has left providers across the country struggling to find ways of delivering the offer that won’t force them out of business.
“As a result, parents who expected 30 hours of ‘free childcare’ to take up when and how they wanted, are now facing additional fees and charges and either unexpected restrictions on when they can take up their places, or a struggle to find places altogether. This is a direct consequence of the complete mismanagement of this policy and it is unacceptable for government to continue to turn a blind eye to the situation it has created.
“It’s time for the government to step up, admit it got this wrong, and fix the mess that it has made. Otherwise it will be parents and providers who pay the price.”
‘For too long lots of families really struggled’
The government’s research suggests that 84% of parents who took part in the trial scheme reported they had better finances as a result of the 30 hours free childcare.
Education secretary Justine Greening comments: “High quality childcare not only helps our children get the best start in life, it supports many parents who want or need to work.
“For too long lots of families really struggled to manage the cost of childcare and that’s why we have delivered on our promise to provide 30 hours free – saving working families around £5,000 a year.”
These changes come as part of sweeping childcare reforms made by the government. This includes the closure of the existing childcare voucher scheme.
From April 2018 parents will no longer be able to register to receive childcare vouchers as the system is fully replaced by the Tax-Free Childcare scheme.
Find out if you’d be better off claiming on the new or the existing scheme by reading our Moneywise guide.