In Wales there are two government funded schemes that offer free childcare for children aged 2, 3 and 4.
The Flying Start Scheme
You can get 12.5 hours of free childcare a week for children aged 2 years old under the Flying Start Scheme. The scheme is currently only available in some parts of Wales so it is not available to all 2 year old children at the moment. However, there are plans to extend the scheme to all areas of Wales from September 2022. At the moment, to be eligible for the scheme, you must live in a Flying Start area. You should check with your local Family Information Service whether your area is covered by the scheme. The Welsh government is expected to make an announcement on their plans to extend the scheme in the autumn. If the scheme is going to cover your area you will be notified by your local Flying Start team in the summer.
If you live in an area covered by the Flying Start Scheme, you can get 2.5 hours of childcare per day over 5 days a week during term time (39 weeks of the year) following your child’s 2nd birthday until the term they turn 3.
In addition to free childcare, the Flying Start Scheme also offers additional support services for children aged 0-3 and their families through an intensive health visiting service, parenting support and support for speech, language and communication development.
To apply for the free childcare contact your local Family Information Service. They will help you find suitable childcare for your child.
The Childcare Offer for Wales
You can get up to 30 hours of free childcare a week for children aged 3 and 4 under the childcare offer for Wales. The 30 hours is made up of 10 hours a week of early education and a maximum of 20 hours a week of childcare. The amount of childcare you can get depends on what your local council offers.
The types of childcare that are available under the offer are:
- out of school childcare
You cannot get free childcare under the offer if you use a nanny to provide childcare. However, if your nanny is registered under the Welsh Government’s voluntary approval scheme you may be able to get other support with childcare. More information on this is available on the Care Inspectorate Wales website.
Eligibility for the childcare offer
To be eligible for the free childcare you, and your partner if you have one, must both be working, and you must each expect to earn (on average) the equivalent of working 16 hours a week at National Minimum Wage or Living Wage. If your partner is unable to work because they are disabled or are caring for a disabled person, you can still get the free childcare, provided that your partner is claiming specific benefits related to caring or incapacity for work, such as Carer’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.
You are not able to use the scheme if either you or your partner has a gross income of £100,000 a year or more.
You can use the scheme if you are self-employed or on a zero hours contract, however, you will still need to meet the earnings requirement and will be asked to prove your status and provide relevant documents. If you are newly self-employed and started your business less than 12 months ago you can still access the free childcare.
If you or your partner are on maternity paternity or adoption leave you will still be treated as meeting the earnings requirement – this applies whether you are single or a couple.
Foster parents and kinship carers may also be eligible for the free childcare, provided they meet the general criteria and work and earnings requirements. Contact your local council if you need more guidance.
Parents who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ and are ‘subject to immigration control’ under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 can access the free childcare if they meet the eligibility criteria. For more advice contact your local council.
You can check your eligibility for the free childcare offer on the gov.wales website.
How to apply for the childcare offer
How you apply for the free childcare offer for children aged 3-4 years old depends on your local council and how they run the scheme. You should contact your local council to find out how to apply.
When can the free childcare under the offer start?
The earliest you can apply is the term in which your child turns 3. The childcare will not start until the beginning of the term after you apply. The first day of term is determined by your local council therefore the exact date the free childcare can start will vary between different council areas. The childcare will continue until the September after your child reaches the age of 4.
Using the free hours entitlement
The free childcare offer is available for 48 weeks of the year. This includes 39 weeks during term time and 9 weeks during non-term time which is treated as ‘holiday provision’. The Welsh Government has not specified which of the non-term time 13 weeks of the year are designated as the 9 weeks of ‘holiday provision’ to allow parents flexibility to choose the weeks that they most need the free childcare. Childcare providers should also not be specifying to parents which of the 13 weeks are designated as holiday provision under the offer either.
You can use the 30 hours of free childcare however you choose, for example, 10 hours per day over a period of 3 days a week, however, you cannot stretch your entitlement over more than one week or transfer unused hours across weeks.
How is holiday provision allocated?
Holiday provision is allocated at the beginning of each term, with 3 weeks holiday provision being allocated per term of eligibility. Holiday provision can be carried over from one term to the next and from one academic year to the next. Holiday provision must be used in weekly blocks and can be used in any week when at least 3 out of 5 days are designated school holidays.
What happens if my circumstances change?
If your circumstances change which means your are no longer eligible for the free childcare offer, for example, you lose your job or your earnings drop below the threshold or increase above the threshold, you will be given an 8 week temporary extension period where you can still access the free childcare. You must report changes to your circumstances that affect your eligibility to both your childcare provider and your local council. If, at the end of the 8 week temporary extension period, you are still not eligible you will stop receiving the free childcare, however, you can re-apply if you become eligible again in future.