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 (DfE) said.
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.
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.
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.”
She added that the scheme was to ensure parents ”no longer have to choose between a career and a family” and that the government was committed to “getting more people into work and growing the economy”.
Opposition figures have accused the government of having no plans to deliver on the offer amid a widespread shortage of childcare providers.
The number of providers in England dropped by about 4,000 between March 2021 and March 2022, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
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Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the plan would not work with nurseries and childminders “going to the wall” and “staff leaving in their droves”.
“Early years providers up and down the country are warning that the Conservatives’ policy is totally undeliverable,” she said.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson said funding for childcare services was “a fraction of what’s needed”.
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.”