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The term “30 hours of free childcare” refers to provision over 38 weeks of the year; the extended entitlement amounts to a total of 1140 hours of free childcare a year, which is commonly taken as 30 hours over 38 weeks, but may be “stretched” with fewer weekly hours over more weeks.

The extended entitlement provides an additional 15 hours of free childcare on top of the existing 15 hours (both over 38 weeks) which is universally available to all 3 and 4 year olds (and some 2 year olds). However, the extended entitlement is only available to those eligible 3 and 4 years (excluding most looked after children, including local authority fostered children) of qualifying parents or carers; a means-test determines eligibility based on a minimum and maximum income level although certain other two-parent households can also be eligible.

In order to take advantage of the extended entitlement, a parent or carer has to obtain a code from the Government’s “Childcare Service”, which they pass on to their childcare provider and is then validated. There were issues for some parents trying to obtain a code during 2017, although the Government stated in November 2017 that “significant improvements” had been made to the system. 

There are rules on what childcare providers can and cannot charge for, although any additional hours beyond the free entitlement is a private matter between a provider and a parent or carer.

The Government has said that it will change the rules to allow local authority fostered children to be eligible for the extended entitlement, and that it expects this change to take effect from September 2018.

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