Almost 9,000 free nursery places for children in England will be funded by a £50-million grant, the Department for Education has announced today.

The move is aimed at delivering on the Government's existing pledge to offer three- and four-year-olds in England 30 hours of free care a week from September this year.

Almost 200 nurseries and pre-schools around England will benefit from the funding pot, allowing them to offer thousands of extra places to children by investing in new buildings, upgrading old ones and improving facilities.

As things stand, all three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours' free childcare a week for at least 38 weeks a year, regardless of their parents' income or employment status. Free places are already offered by a range of providers including Sure Start children's centres, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders.

In September this entitlement will double to 30 hours a week for many three- and four-year-olds – though not all will qualify for this extended entitlement, as income and employment requirements have been introduced for it (see below for more on this).

The 30-hour places are already being offered in eight areas – Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon and Wigan – but will be rolled out to cover the whole of England later this year. Childcare in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland isn't changing – see how this works below.

While 15-hour places will continue, many childcare providers who do this are already planning to offer 30-hour places from September, according to the Department for Education. The 9,000 new places generated following today's announcement will be in addition to these anticipated places.

However, early-years groups and experts have queried whether sufficient free places will be available when the changes come in.

For full help on childcare entitlements and schemes for children of all ages, see our Childcare Costs Help guide.

Martin Lewis
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Who's eligible for the extended childcare?

To claim 30 hours of childcare each week for your three- or four-year-old from September 2017, you must:

  • Be in work (employed or self-employed)
  • Earn the equivalent of at least 16 hours a week paid at national minimum wage (if you're under 25) or National Living Wage (if you're 25+)
  • Earn less than £100,000/year

These requirements are based on the household the child lives in, so if the parents live together they must individually meet this criteria to qualify for 30 hours' childcare – if one or both parents don't, their child would only get the 15 free nursery hours which are available to all.

If the parents have split up and the child lives with one parent and their new partner, that partner's employment status and income may be taken into account, even though they're not related to the child.

I think I'm eligible – how do I get a place?

Parents in England who want to take advantage of a free place for their three- or four-year-old from September are advised to speak to childcare providers in their area to find out which of them are participating in the scheme and register their interest.

The Department for Education told MoneySavingExpert.com that parents would be required to check their own eligibility before actually applying for a place – but the details of how this will work are yet to be finalised and the process isn't up and running yet.

But it's expected that parents who pass the eligibility check will receive a code which they can then give to their nursery of choice to prove they're entitled to the place.

What does the Department for Education say?

Education Secretary Justine Greening says: "We want Britain to be a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That means removing the barriers facing parents who are struggling to balance their jobs with the cost of childcare, and spreading the opportunities available to hard-working families across the country.

"This funding, backed by our record £6 billion investment in childcare per year by 2020, means we can make more free places available to more families across the country, helping us to deliver our childcare offer to thousands more children."

I don't live in England. What can I get?

Childcare is a devolved issue so Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make their own decisions on it. This is what your three- or four-year-old is currently entitled to in:

  • Scotland. All three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15.8 hours a week. This is slightly higher than the 15 hours a week currently offered in England.
  • Wales. During term time, all three- and four-year-olds get 10 hours a week of free childcare.
  • Northern Ireland. Three- and four-year-olds get two and a half hours of free childcare every day during term time.

See our Childcare Costs Help guide for more details.

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