Parents can go online to find out what childcare they are eligible for under plans which will see nurseries expanded to provide more places and funding given to councils for wraparound care.
Further details of the previously-announced reforms to allow some families of children as young as nine months to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week – set out by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the March Budget – have been announced.
The Department for Education said parents in England can visit an eligibility checker online to see what they are entitled to, depending on their earnings and their child’s age.
The Government said £100 million is being made available for nursery and early years places, with funding intended to support childcare settings to increase their physical space, which the department said is anticipated to add thousands of new places across the country.
Following Mr Hunt’s target for all schools to be able to offer care either side of the school day by September 2026, local authorities will also now be getting details of how much of the £289 million wraparound fund they will receive – based on “anticipated need”.
Early years leaders had previously expressed concerns that nurseries and childminders could struggle to deliver additional places for younger children from next year if the funding provided by the Government does not meet rising costs.
The offer of free childcare for working parents will be available to those with two-year-olds from April 2024, covering around half a million parents, but it will initially be limited to 15 hours.
From September 2024, the 15-hour offer will be extended to children from nine months, helping a total of nearly a million parents, and the full 30-hour offer to all under-fives will come in from September 2025.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “No-one should have to choose between having a career and having a family, so I’m determined that every parent who wants it should have access to the childcare they need.
“Flexibility is at the heart of our plans to transform childcare for families, whether it’s offering quality childcare out of school hours or making sure there are more early years places where they’re needed most.
“This is the largest investment in childcare in our history, so I encourage people with young children or those thinking about starting a family to visit the Childcare Choices website to find out what they’re eligible for.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said that far more investment is needed.
“Unfortunately, the money behind this expansion is a fraction of what is required. Our members are also questioning where they will find the additional staff,” he said.
“There is a real danger that the Government’s promises could fall short in reality if they don’t urgently look again at the funding and resources.”
Helen Hayes, Labour’s shadow children and early years minister, added: “Without more details about whether this is new money, how many places it will provide and how new childcare will be staffed this pledge isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
“The Conservatives have overseen a dramatic fall in the number of childcare providers and places – they simply cannot be trusted to deliver the change in childcare that families need and deserve.”
The department also said the childminder start-up grant scheme will open for applications by the end of November.
The grant – £600 for those who register with Ofsted and £1,200 for those who register with a childminder agency – is aimed at boosting the numbers of childminders working to offer parents more flexible childcare.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said: “Boosting employment is key to growing our economy, and the extra money provided for parents on Universal Credit will give them the flexibility and security they need to find a job, support their children and reap the benefits of work.
“I encourage every parent to access this resource to see what help is available and to talk to one of the thousands of Work Coaches in our Jobcentres who are there to help them find work or enhance their skills.”
Parents can visit childcarechoices.gov.uk to use the eligibility checker.