Parents may struggle to take advantage of a Government scheme to deliver 30 hours of free childcare a week for three and four-year olds in England, after a recent survey showed that less than half of the country’s childcare providers are planning to offer the scheme.

It was initially hoped that almost 200 nurseries and pre-schools around England would benefit from a £50m Department for Education (DfE) funding pot, allowing them to offer thousands of extra places to children by investing in new buildings, upgrading old ones and improving facilities.

However, of the 1,332 childcare providers surveyed by the Pre-School Learning Alliance last month, just 44% said that they plan to offer the free 30-hours once the entitlement is rolled out in September, compared to 95% who currently offer the existing free 15-hours offer.

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.

Check out Childcare Costs Help guide for full info.

Cost of non-funded childcare hours likely to increase

Six out of 10 providers surveyed by the Pre-School Learning Alliance said that the funding rate for the 30-hours does not cover their delivery cost.

Those that said they were expecting the 30-hours offer to have a negative effect on their business were planning a number of steps to limit the damage. Just over half of those surveyed said they would increase their fees for additional, non-funded hours and just under half said they would charge extra for goods and services that they have previously offered for free.

Four in 10 said they were planning to restrict the times and days when the funded hours could be used.

'Many parents are likely to be disappointed'

Neil Leitch, chief executive at the the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: "With so few providers currently committed to delivering the 30-hours, and so many forced to consider limiting places, raising fees or introducing extra charges in order to remain sustainable, many parents expecting easy access to a ‘free’ 30-hours place in September are likely to be disappointed.

"The fact is that the 30-hours offer cannot succeed without adequate investment. Neither parents nor providers should be expected to pay for a promise that the government chose to make."

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 23, or national living wage, if you're 23+, (the government calls the minimum wage for over 23’s the ‘national living wage’. We don’t use that term, as it is not based on assessment of the cost of living. See our National minimum wage guide for full info.
  • 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.