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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
PA Reporters

First wave of childcare expansion rollout to open for applications in January

PA Wire

Working parents of toddlers are being encouraged to register to access 15 hours of free childcare per week in the new year.

Applications open on January 2 for the first wave of the rollout of reforms expanding the amount of free childcare, the Department for Education said.

A childminder start-up grant – £600 for those who register with Ofsted and £1,200 for those who register with a childminder agency – will also launch on Thursday.

A £400 million increase in funding for early years providers has also been confirmed for 2024-25.

Opposition critics accused the Tories of having no plans to deliver on the offer amid a widespread shortage of childcare providers.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the reforms for England in the Budget in March to allow some families of children as young as nine months to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week.

From April next year, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September next year.

From September 2025, working parents of children under five will be entitled to 30 hours’ free childcare per week.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Our fantastic childcare offer is going to start supporting eligible families in less than six months’ time, and I want to make sure that parents and providers are prepared.”

“From April next year, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of government-funded childcare a week, making sure parents no longer have to choose between a career and a family, and doubling down on this government’s commitment to getting more people into work and growing the economy.”

Early years providers up and down the country are warning that the Conservatives’ policy is totally undeliverable
— Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the plan would not work with nurseries and childminders “going to the wall”.

“Early years providers up and down the country are warning that the Conservatives’ policy is totally undeliverable,” she said.

“With nurseries and childminders going to the wall, at least two children for every childcare place and staff leaving in their droves, it’s clear the Conservatives have no plan to deliver the offer made to families.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson said the commitment “rings hollow” with Government funding for childcare services “a fraction of what’s needed” compared to the real cost of provision.

“How does this Conservative government expect to roll out expansion of childcare when there are not enough providers to go around?” she said.

“There is a huge crisis looming, with both nurseries and local councils warning of a collapse if the Government doesn’t come forward with proper funding.”

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