Working families hoping to secure 15 hours of free childcare for 2-year-old olds urged to act fast now that registrations are open

Working parents of toddlers can now register for 15 hours free childcare as the scheme's extension looms closer

Children learning through play while sitting on the floor at nursery with their nursery worker
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Eligible working parents of two-year-olds can now register for 15 hours free childcare per week. This follows the extension of the free childcare scheme that was announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in his Spring Budget at the end of March 2023. It will be welcome news to parents who have seen average childcare costs increase at a time when their family budgets are stretched thin by high living costs.

In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that the 15 hours free childcare scheme, which was previously only available to working parents with children aged three and four, would be extended to working parents of two-year-olds from April 2024. From September 2024, this will be extended again to cover children between nine months and two-years-old.

Jeremy Hunt also announced that the 30 hours free childcare scheme would be extended to eligible families from when their child turned nine months old, but that is not due to come into effect until September 2025.

When can parents of two-year-olds apply for 15 hours free childcare?

Eligible working parents of two-year-olds can now register for 15 hours free childcare per week, effective from April 2024. Registration officially opened on 2 January 2024, and while a specific cut-off date for registrations hasn't been announced yet, the government has said that the recommended time to register is between mid-January and the end of February 2024. You can sign up for more information and register on the government's Childcare Choices website.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: "Our fantastic childcare offer is going to start supporting eligible families in less than 6 months’ time, and I want to make sure that parents and providers are prepared."

Gillian continued, saying that as as of April 2024: "Eligible working parents of 2-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."

However, there is widespread criticism that the government can't deliver on the extension due to a shortage of childcare providers. But the government recently launched a childminder start-up grant, offering £600 for those who register with Ofsted and £1,200 for those who register with a childminder agency, in an attempt to reduce the shortage.

A huge help for working parents

This extension of the 15 hours free childcare scheme will be welcome news to working parents who struggle to strike a manageable balance between their childcare responsibilities and their work life. This is especially the case following the release of a new report that lays bare the 'disproportionate impact' childcare has on a mother's career.

According to the Parenthood: Uplifting New Mothers at Work report, from the Fawcett Society, one in ten mothers had to quit their job due to childcare pressures, and more than a third felt that their childcare commitments would hinder them from reaching their career aspirations, despite 44% of mothers feeling even more ambitious career-wise after having a baby.

While this extension of the free childcare scheme isn't enough to end the motherhood penalty, it's a step in the right direction. But whether the government can deliver on its promise remains to be seen.

Parents might also be interested in whether child benefit is going up in 2024 to help with the cost of raising a child. It's also worth knowing whether you qualify for help with childcare costs too.

Sarah Handley
Consumer Writer & Money Editor, GoodtoKnow

Sarah is GoodtoKnow’s Consumer Writer & Money Editor and is passionate about helping mums save money wherever they can - whether that's spending wisely on toys and kidswear or keeping on top of the latest news around childcare costs, child benefit, the motherhood penalty. A writer, journalist and editor with more than 15 years' experience, Sarah is all about the latest toy trends and is always on the look out for toys for her nephew or Goddaughters so that she remains one of their favourite grown ups. When not writing about money or best buys, Sarah can be found hanging out with her rockstar dog Pepsi, getting opinionated about a movie or learning British Sign Language.