Paid collaboration with the Welsh Government and the Childcare Offer for Wales
It’s a new year, a new decade, and, for many of us, a time to get organised. If you’re the parent of a 3 or 4 year old, or a soon to be 3 year old, then you might like to add applying for the Childcare Offer for Wales to your to-do list. This is a Welsh Government scheme which enables most working parents of 3 to 4 year olds in Wales to claim funds towards the cost of childcare.
The scheme was introduced last year, and thousands of working parents across Wales are already benefitting from the Offer, with hundreds of childcare providers signed up to the scheme.
Read on for everything you need to know about the Childcare Offer for Wales, including how to apply for it.
What is the Childcare Offer for Wales?
The Childcare Offer for Wales is a Welsh Government initiative which means that most working parents of 3 to 4 year olds can claim funds towards the cost of childcare.
Eligible parents in Wales can receive 30 hours of early education and childcare for 48 weeks of the year. This consists of a minimum of 10 hours of ‘early education’ a week and a maximum of 20 hours a week of childcare. The exact amount depends on how much early education your local authority offers.
Hundreds of nurseries, child minders, Cylch Meithrin, playgroups and crèches across Wales are on board with the offer, meaning you can choose a childcare provider that meets your family’s needs. You can access English, Welsh or bilingual childcare with the Offer.
‘Early education’, or Foundation Phase Nursery, is available to all children in Wales from the term after their third birthday. All local authorities provide a minimum of 10 hours per week early education, either in the local school or in a setting such as a playgroup, a day nursery or a Cylch Meithrin.
How do I know if I am eligible for the Childcare Offer for Wales?
To apply for the Childcare Offer for Wales:
- your child must be aged 3 or 4 years old
- you must earn a weekly minimum equivalent of 16 hours at national minimum wage (NMW), national living wage (NLW) or apprenticeship minimum wage (AMW)
- each parent must earn less than £100,000 gross per year
- parents of lone parent families need to be working, unless they are temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick, parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave.
- parents of two parent families must both be working, unless one of them is in receipt of a work-related benefit or has substantial caring responsibilities or unless one or both parents are temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick, parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave
- foster carers and kinship carers may also be eligible
If a nanny looks after your child you cannot pay them using the Offer. However you could get other support to help towards the costs of your nanny if the nanny is approved under Care Inspectorate Wales’ voluntary approval scheme.
How do I apply for the Childcare Offer for Wales and when?
Eligible children can access the Childcare Offer for Wales from the beginning of the term following their third birthday, up until the September following their fourth birthday, when they begin full-time education.
Your local authority’s Family Information Service will be able to tell you exactly how to apply – you can find their details via this link. https://gov.wales/find-your-local-family-information-service
Your local Family Information Service will also give details of when you can apply. Cardiff, for example, will not accept applications more than eight weeks before the beginning of the term following the child’s third birthday.
Your local authority will determine how applications are handled but as a general rule, you will need to fill in the online application form, as well as providing a scan/photograph of your child’s birth certificate, parent(s) proof of residency (e.g. most recent Council Tax statement, bank statement or utility bill); agreed childcare providers hours and days; as well as employment details, for example a scan/photo of the last three months of wage slips, employer’s contact details, or for those who are self-employed, a Self-Assessment Tax Return and unique tax reference (UTR) number (if self-employed for less than 12 months, UTR number only); or a scan/photograph of any Department for Work and Pensions letter or current employer’s letter that would qualify parents for the Childcare Offer if not currently in work.
Parents will be required to re-confirm they remain eligible for the Childcare Offer on a termly basis. For the majority of families this will only require responding to an e-mail, but a randomly selected proportion of families will be required to re-submit evidence of income.
The money is paid directly to the childcare provider and deducted from your bill. Parents do not receive any money directly.
Does the Childcare Offer for Wales affect Tax-Free Childcare?
You can still use Tax-Free Childcare but only for any additional hours of childcare you need over and above what is paid for through the Childcare Offer. You can’t use Tax Free Childcare if you receive Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit.
Does the Childcare Offer for Wales affect Working Tax Credits/the childcare element of Universal Credit?
You must let the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) know that you are receiving the Offer and tell them that the amount you expect to spend on childcare is changing as a result of you taking up the Offer.
You can still receive Working Tax Credit at the same time as receiving the Childcare Offer. Working Tax Credits are calculated based on how much you earn and an estimate of childcare costs. Receiving the Childcare Offer for Wales may lead to an increase in your income. For example, if you can work more hours, or due to a reduction in your childcare costs. This means you may receive less tax credits.
You cannot use the childcare costs element of Universal Credit for hours of childcare funded by the Childcare Offer for Wales. You can, however, claim Universal Credit childcare costs for any additional childcare you need to pay for. This can be for either your 3 or 4 year old or any other child in your household.
Can a childcare provider charge for extra on top for e.g. meals?
The funding from the Welsh Government is for the care the professionals within the setting provide. This does not include food, transport or off-site activities that incur an extra charge. Providers will be able to charge you for these. The cost of transport (for example, from private nursery to foundation phase nursery) will depend on where you live and how far the staff have to travel with your child. Providers should not charge more than £7.50 per day for food or £4.75 for half a day (including lunch and snacks).
If a parent struggles to find a childcare provider who can provide a wrap-around service for the Foundation Phase Nursery they would like their child to go to, thus meaning the parent has to turn down the state nursery place, can they use the full 30 hours at their child’s private nursery?
The number of childcare hours will depend on the number of hours of Foundation Phase Nursery offered by your local authority and one cannot be exchanged for the other. During school term time, your child will only get the number of hours of childcare provided in addition to the Foundation Phase Nursery provision up to a total of 30 hours per week. This means that if your local authority offers 12.5 hours of Foundation Phase Nursery, you can only have 17.5 hours’ childcare per week during school term time even if you are not able to take up the Foundation Phase Nursery provision.
What happens during school holidays when the school nurseries are closed? Can the full 30 hours be used at the private childcare provider?
Parents are eligible for 3 weeks of holiday provision per term they are eligible which means that, for example, if your child is entitled to 3 terms of the Offer, they can have 9 weeks’ holiday provision. During these holiday weeks, the child can have 30 hours of childcare.
How does the Offer apply to a parent/both parents who are self-employed?
Parents who are self-employed are still entitled to claim the Childcare Offer for Wales, provided they are eligible. They are eligible if they can meet the minimum earnings criteria over a three-month period. Where one or both parents are newly self-employed and have not yet met the minimum hour’s eligibility criteria, an initial start-up period will be allowed of up to 12 months before the parent needs to provide evidence that they are earning the equivalent of 16 hours at the applicable National Minimum Wage. Parents will need to provide evidence that they are self-employed in order to qualify.
Parent on zero hour contracts are eligible if they meet the earnings criteria based on an average income over 3 months.
Can the Childcare Offer for Wales still be used for a 3 or 4 year old if one of the parents is on parental leave with a new baby?
Yes. Parents who are employed or self-employed but are on statutory leave, for example maternity leave, are still eligible, provided they meet the required criteria.
If a parent works part-time, do they have to use all of the 30 hours?
No. You can choose how much of the 30 hours you use for up to 48 weeks of the year. However, if you do not use all of your 30 hours in one week, you can’t use them in another week. You can’t swap education hours for childcare hours, or childcare hours for education hours. You can, however, pay for additional hours of childcare yourself based on a private contract between you and your childcare provider.
Does the Childcare Offer for Wales support those seeking to go back to work, or those training or in full-time education?
Welsh Government is currently reviewing the Offer, and looking at the feasibility of extending it to parents in education and training or on the cusp of returning to work. The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services will update Assembly Members on that review before the summer.
Are there any plans to extend the Childcare Offer for Wales to include children under the age of 3? Often childcare costs are one of the main reasons a parent may not return to work following maternity/parental leave?
There are currently no plans to extend the Offer to children under the age of 3. The Welsh Government’s targeted Early Years programme does provide quality, part-time childcare for 2-3 year olds in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Wales. You should speak to your local Family Information Service if you think this may be an option for you.
A range of other programmes are also available to support other categories of parent, such as PaCE and Flying Start; Work-Based Learning Support for non-employed learners; the Financial Contingency Fund for individuals attending further education and the childcare grant to students in higher education.
Photos by Huw John.