“Eligibility for 30 hours childcare passes 375,000 mark”

By Tristan Donovan

| 13 April 2018

The number of parents potentially eligible for 30 hours of free childcare has risen to more than 375,000 for the final term of 2017/18, government figures show.

Statistics published by the Department for Education show that a total of 377,535 eligibility codes that allow the families of three- and four-year-olds access to 30 hours of free childcare this summer term have been issued by 31 March.

This is almost 50,000 more codes than the 329,195 issued for the spring term, with the government estimating that around 294,000 children took up a place as a result.

In order to use their 30 hours of childcare, parents must give the code to their childcare provider who will then get it validated.

The DfE data shows 87 per cent of summer term eligibility codes had been validated by 9 April and parents still have until the end of the summer term to put their code to use. At the start of the spring term, 82 per cent of eligibility codes had been validated.

Based on final proportion of eligibility codes validated in the autumn and spring terms and the estimates for each period of how many children eventually took up a place, the latest statistics indicate that in excess of 330,000 children will have a 30 hours place for the final term of the year.

While uptake of the 30 hours offer is rising, childcare provider groups warned that supply may not keep up with demand unless the government increases funding.

"Given the Department for Education itself has acknowledged that the demand for places during the term will bring ‘a variety of challenges', it's clearly vital that providers are encouraged to engage with the 30-hour offer - but the fact is that this simply won't happen unless the government addresses the issue of underfunding," said Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance.

"Given that most providers will have seen little to no change in funding rates in April - despite significant increases in minimum wage requirement and other costs - it would not be surprising if many were unwilling to consider increasing the number of 30-hour places they offer, meaning that many areas of the country are likely to see a shortage of available places."

Earlier this month a survey by London Councils reported that more than half of the capital's boroughs expect to see providers reducing places for two-year-olds in a bid to ensure they can offer 30 hours of childcare to the parents of three- and four-year-olds.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries' Association (NDNA), said: "The NDNA is currently capturing information from nurseries across the country about their shortfalls but also how many are limiting places and the impact of the 30 hours policy on their sustainability. We expect the results of that to make sober reading because we know from our members that most are struggling to deliver the government's policy due to insufficient investment and the increased amount of administration it is causing."

Parents can only claim their free childcare in the term following their child's third birthday or after their eligibility code was issued, whichever is later.