30 hours of free childcare – can it work for you?

It seems like the parents of the UK have been screaming for more support in helping Mums (and Dads) get back to work and lessen the crippling costs of childcare for a long time; something I felt had a huge impact in my decision to not return to work after being made redundant.

And then, there it was; 30 hours free childcare for three to four year olds from September. The answer to all our problems.

Or is it?

It seems like no sooner one childcare set up has been settled-in, another potential change arises, and as a parent of a two year old, we now  need to decide whether the 30 hours childcare is something which can benefit us as a family.

Obviously each and every family unit is completely different, and if you are already working full time or part time and forking out for more than 15 hours of childcare, this may be fantastic news for you.

However there are so many elements to consider…

Are you eligible?

You can read more about eligibility on the government site here, but in a nutshell here are some key points to know.

  • Both parents should be in employment; either paid, self employed or zero hours contract.
  • You should be earning (or expecting to earn) the equivalent of 16 hours per week at the minimum wage (£120/week).
  • Neither parent should be earning more than £100K per year.
  • One parent may be on maternity, parental, adoption, or sick leave and still qualify.
  • A ‘start up’ grace period of 1 year for a new business is eligible without the need to demonstrate income

As a family, this means that we could, from January, railroad our plans to increase our daughter’s current two mornings at pre-school to five mornings, and utilise the full thirty hour allowance.

Is it available to you?

Well, we could if her pre-school was participating. However, as it’s only open fifteen hours a week, it would have to re-structure it’s entire business structure. The scheme is not compulsory for all childcare providers, and as such you’d have to check where is offering it in your nursery and what is available in your area.

We have however also put her name on the list at the primary school pre-school, where her sister attends – to perhaps to do a year there prior to starting in reception (another ongoing debate in our heads). There has been an indication that the current set up of five morning or five afternoon three hour sessions, is being considered for the thirty hours scheme. This means parents can opt for five mornings, five afternoons, or five full days (9-3). Note with this particular pre-school there is no pick and mix option for days or times.

Do the hours fit around your role?

Now whilst I appreciate there are some jobs that fit between 9am and 3pm, I know that my in previous career, these hours just wouldn’t have fitted in with the business need or structure. Part time generally meant three days in, two days off, and the ability to drop off and pick up around school run time was always going to be tricky.

This is where alternatives and gap fillers would need to be considered if I did perhaps return to work; helpful and available relatives or friends, flexible working arrangements or an additional childcare provider for the additional  pick up and drop off times. That just seems such a huge leap from my current position of stay at home Mum though, for both me and the children.

child, family, fashion

However, private day care providers (not linked to a school) tend to have a more wide and flexible arrangement, and many will let you pick and choose your days to suit your needs. These types of nurseries, like the ones my daughters used to attend, might let you use the 30 hours based on your work schedule.

Check the fine print

Bear in mind, some daycare providers install a ‘core hours’ system, whereby only a limited number of funded hours can be utilised in any one session; the rest requiring a wrap around payment fee. Other nurseries may charge a fee for lunch or a lunch hour, or make up a deficit in funds by other fees. I read that not all nurseries manage financially well on the government funded scheme, therefore additional top ups are needed to tide things over. Perhaps the thirty hours extra capacity could even put some nurseries out of business?

Making the right decision for you

It all feels a little rock-and-a-hard-place. To return to my career would probably require an enrolment into a private nursery – the type we actively moved away from in order to select the best option for our kids introduction to the education system. Or recruiting a childminder which we just don’t feel is right for us at this time.

So what about increasing my time on my business; my blog. Yes, I could take the 30 hour week and blog in peace and quiet for five days a week. But that just doesn’t sit right. I started blogging around my life as a stay at home Mum, not returning to work so I could be here for my young children. Therefore putting my three year old in optional childcare to blog, that defies the whole principle of that decision doesn’t it?

apple, businesswoman, communication

I suppose the key factor here is a complex combination of options, choices and circumstances. My decision for myself and my family will be to not take up the thirty hours childcare, and to save that 9 to 3 school week for when the mouse joins her sister at primary school. I know the leap to thirty hours or so for our four year old was a huge leap, so we are unsure about putting that on her sister two years earlier than we have to. But, I appreciate how incredibly lucky I am to have a choice.

I’m choosing to hold on tight to the last couple of years having a cheeky mouse scurrying around my home, and I’ll defer my blog world domination or return to my previous career for another time…for now, soft play this afternoon anyone?


Have you been able to plan how the thirty hours scheme could work for you? I’d love to know your thoughts…

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29 thoughts on “30 hours of free childcare – can it work for you?

  1. saffi yusef Reply

    Having returned to work a month ago and enduring the cost of nursery fees, I can understand why anyone wants to be a SAHM these days. We pay more for our nursery place than we do for our mortgage on a monthly basis. Our little one is 11 months old….so no free childcare for us! If only! I only hope that the rules change going forward. Thanks for the post. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of comments on this subject.

  2. Heather Keet Reply

    What an awesome program! #bigpinklink

  3. postcards_for_findlay Reply

    I’m back to work in a matter of weeks and already feeling a little jaded by the fact my whole salary will go on nursery fees. At only 10 months, Leo is still way away from his free places, so I do worry about how we would manage should we have any more children – I don’t think we could afford nursery x2! Great post and very informative. #bigpinklink

  4. tootingmama Reply

    The whole childcare thing is such a minefield. I do think the UK makes it hard for parents who want to work. Your caught out because your pre-school doesn’t participate.

    Then they start school and that another whole issue. School finishes at 3.30pm, but you are in work til 5/6pm it’s the mad dash to the after-school club / childminder, then the school holidays. I can see why so many Mums/Dads don’t go back to work.

    There seems to be a better system in France. It’s the done thing for women here to go back to work and pick up their careers and the childcare system works around that. That’s another post for another time.

    Hope it all works out for you!!! #bigpinklink

  5. Charlotte Stein Reply

    As a childminder (with one early years space) I’m earning less than the minimum wage and working more than 16hrs, so I would come just under the earning bracket to qualify to use our preschool for more than the 15 hours. Although as a sahm and wahm I would feel wrong putting him in for 30 hrs anyhow. I also question why you would need 30 hours whilst on maternity/paternity leave. I always have doubts/questions on funded childcare hours and how it can work fairly. In our military area we get 15 hours funding from 2 years and the majority take the funding and as it’s hard to work here a high majority don’t work in these 15 hours. Most toddler groups etc run whilst these funded sessions run and so I feel the community is missing out on Mum/child interaction opportunities. I also agree that the 30 hours funding whilst great for big childcare bills is not financially viable for a lot of childcare settings. Interesting article!

  6. The Mumatron Reply

    It is a funny one isn’t it? No sooner has one system settled in another pops up. I hope that we can access some of the hours when the time comes (it may well have changed by then!) Hugo really enjoys nursery and I often end up working that morning only to cover the cost. I know from my SIL that lots of nurseries struggle to make ends meet on the scheme but if they don’t, I do. Vicious circle. #CoolMumClub

  7. Donna Reply

    The Boy had 15 hours free before he started school. It was with a childminder so the hours were much more flexible. The only issue we had was that it was only term time, so we’d end up with a giant bill in august!

    We will use the 30 hours when The Bobsy turns 3 I think, still a way to go yet however! #coolmumclub

  8. Surrey mama Reply

    Thank you SO much for this! Amelie turns 3 in July and I needed to read up on this so you’ve done the hard work for me! #coolmumclub

  9. motherhoodtherealdeal Reply

    30 hours free childcare seems like a lot on paper but then throwing all of the above into the mix then suddenly it doesn’t seem as rosy does it? Sending mama #coolmumclub love xoxo

  10. grin2much Reply

    An interesting post , gives everyone something to think about. Because of the cost of childcare I became a childminder once my maternity leave ended and I have had a wonderful few years with my little boy, now he is starting school in September I have managed to land a job working school hours and term time only, am feeling so lucky as the childcare dilemma is every parents nightmare. Looks like their is some light at the end of the tunnel, good luck parents…

  11. Angela Watling Reply

    It frustrates me how difficult childcare is and how little help the government give. Even policies like this are full of loop holes and conditions that just confuse people. My daughter goes to a private nursery 3 days per week and they accept the free childcare. I don’t know the detail of how they apply it and I am honestly assuming I will need to supplement still. She will stay here until school because of the convenient hours.

    Wrap around school care is proving to be a whole other drama. I honestly don’t understand why all schools aren’t mandated to have before and after school clubs. But that’s a whole different discussion…

    I’m glad you have reached a conclusion that works for you. Ultimately there is no one-size fits all solution so you have to just do the right thing for your family. I can’t see the government help us out any time soon…. #CoolMumClub

  12. ljdove23 Reply

    I feel the same way. I struggle with the hypocrisy of putting my child in nursery for 30 hours a week to write a parenting blog about how much I love being their Mummy. Harry will start 15 hours a week at pre-school in September and that is going to be a huge change for all of us! Before we know it the kids will all be in school and I will miss these days, so for now I plan on enjoying every moment I’ve got! #coolmumclub

  13. Morgan Prince Reply

    I’m way past this now, my two are 12 and 8, however I do think it’s a good thing for younger children. It gives them a chance for socialising when young. 🙂
    Morgan x

  14. mamagrace Reply

    It seems like a great idea but it doesn’t match what is needed to work full time. I guess you could pay the remainder if there was a nursery that opened later. It’s better than 15. #coolmumclub

  15. Lisa Pomerantz Reply

    It’s great if you are a part time worker, but full timers still get left short. Something, somewhere has to give. This program is certainly better than what we have in the states, which is nothing (bupkas)! #coolmumclub

  16. Multicultural Motherhood Reply

    I’m the same as you, I will not be taking up the offer of 30 hours childcare because I want to spend time with my children. However, I can see how it will be very beneficial for working parents. #coolmumclub

  17. anywaytostayathome Reply

    We are lucky that L’s nursery will support the 30 hours but not for free, they still have to charge a top up fee so they can afford to run as the government funding isn’t even close to enough. That’s fine, it will still save us money. Applying wasn’t that easy as I cannot guarantee I’ll be getting 16 hours a week, I’m only contracted 11. But we’ve tried and we’ll see. It’s a good start but it hasn’t been fully thought through by the government at all. #coolmumclub

  18. Aleena Brown Reply

    It’s so frustrating isn’t it? And I also think that the 30 hours are going to be the same as the current 15 – term time only. I could be wrong on that, but it’s just one more spanner in the works isn’t it?! We were planning on utilising the free hours for Amelia – our nursery are great, they allow us to spread the free hours over the whole year rather than termly. It wouldn’t have enabled me to work any more than the 3 days I already do, but would have made 2 out of her 3 full days per week free (with a £10 surcharge for something-or-other). The only reason we’ve changed our minds on this is because we are now moving away next month, and to be honest, I’ll probably stay at home until Wills is at least 3… #coolmumclub

  19. pinkpearbear Reply

    I was thinking about this the other day, it won’t apply to us as it’s school in September but I think I wouldn’t have used them anyway as I’m in the lucky position to work from home and I’ve loved our two days. Thanks for linking up with the #bigpinklink this week.

  20. Muffintopmummyblog Reply

    I didn’t know how this all worked so really interesting to see it explained – nothing is ever just as simple as it sounds when you have children is it!? #coolmumclub

  21. Musings of a tired mummy...zzz... Reply

    My 3 part time jobs all vary from week to week, some weeks I may do 20 + hours but other time it may only be 2. Then there is my blog which I currently do in the evenings and am craving some extra time. But I agree, it just doesn’t feel quite right #coolmumclub

  22. Alana - Burnished Chaos Reply

    I’m a stay at home mum at present and my youngest goes to nursery one morning a week because she was desperate to go to school like her big brother and there aren’t many groups around here for her to play with kids her own age. In September she’ll start pre-school and we we’re offered the 30 hours but I feel it’s too big a jump for her yet (she only turns 3 in August). She’s desperate to go for more hours though so she’ll be doing two and a half days and I will try to build up the blog in those hours so that hopefully, when she starts school the year after I will still be able to work from home and not have to worry about the school pick up and drop off times and school holidays. I keep an eye out for local jobs but none have that flexibility and as my husband is out of the country more than six months of the year with his job I have no one to juggle the childcare with. It’s a tricky one and I honestly don’t know how single mothers cope.

  23. Helena Reply

    I feel like there’s a pressure to get people back to work. My girls are the best little bosses I’ve ever had and we intend to enjoy each others company before we head our separate ways to school and work. #CoolMumClub

  24. Mom Of Two Little Girls Reply

    Oh my word, that sounds so complicated! I can’t imagine having to take all those things into consideration. For us, my decision to be a SAHM, was a case of the law – I don’t have a work visa to work in South Africa. Now that my kids are older, I have considered getting a work permit based on a job offer. That said, when we consider all the sacrifices we would have to make (childcare, cleaner, cooker, shopper, errand runner, nose wiper, sick child care provider etc), plus having to consider annual leave restrictions syncing with each other – it’s not really something we think is best for our family.
    Best of luck with your decision. At least you get the offer of some free childcare.

  25. mummyhereandthere Reply

    Really informative post, thanks for sharing X #coolmumclub

  26. Mum in Brum Reply

    Thanks so much for this summary – I’ve been meaning to read up on it for ages! Taylor has been doing three days a week at a private nursery whilst I’ve worked but the days are so long for her and it’s sooo expensive! Now we’ve moved and I’m on maternity leave again I’ve got her into the local preschool from Sept. I’m thinking that we will keep her in for the three days as I’ll be around to pick her up at 2.50pm, but I think the free hours only cover morning or afternoon sessions – I need to check. I think the 30 hours is great, but I also think that more has to be done educating employers and allowing more flexible working. I’m lucky that I can freelance but like you, I could never have left each day at 2pm in my previous career. It baffles me how other mums manage to juggle everything. Our country is quite traditional in the way we want employees at their desks within office hours, despite the fact that technology has come on so much since the 80s!! x #coolmumclub

  27. Sunita Reply

    Thanks for breaking this down as it can be confusing! I’m glad they’ve given new business owners a grace period of a year – hoping that helps lots of mums with their start up plans too.
    See you Saturday lovely! #coolmumclub

  28. crummymummy1 Reply

    Little B is eligible for this from January and we cannot wait – childcare costs are quite literally crippling us & this will be a big big help #coolmumclub

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