APPLICATIONS for the first wave of the rollout of an expansion of free childcare for working parents will open on January 2, the government has announced today.

Eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to register to access 15 hours free childcare per week from April 2024.

Central Devon MP Mel Stride explained: ‘As part of the largest investment in childcare in England’s history, further increases to government funding rates for childcare have also been confirmed today. 

In 2024-25 alone, £400 million will be invested to deliver a significant uplift to local authority hourly rates.’

National average hourly rates paid by the government will be £11.22 for under twos, £8.28 for two-year-olds, and £5.88 for three- and four-year-olds from April. These rates reflect the planned increase in the National Living Wage from April 2024, which makes up a significant proportion of providers’ costs.

From tomorrow, Thursday, funding will also be available for new childminders who join the profession or who completed their registration on or after March 15 2023, or those re-registering at least 12 months after the cancellation of a previous registration. 

There will be £600 available for those who choose to register with Ofsted and £1,200 for those who choose to register with a childminder agency. 

This is designed to support thousands of new childminders to enter the sector and create new, quality, childcare settings across the country.

Mr Stride, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: 'Extending free childcare to support working parents of two-year-olds from April 2024 will be game-changer in helping more parents, particularly young mums, afford to go back to work. 

‘It will also provide a boost to our economy.’