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Check If You Qualify For Early Learning and Childcare Entitlement

20th February 2015

It has come to our attention that take-up of places in the Wick area for childcare places has been lower than expected. In case anyone has not yet been made aware of the new entitlement we are publishing again the Scottish Government release on this matter. If you are unsure about your entitlement or how it might be used then check with your local childcare providers, school or the council. Even if you may not need childcare right away if you are currently unemployed you should not that any childcare for younger children once started will continue after taking up employment.

Early Learning and Childcare Entitlement
The Scottish Government is committed to improving and increasing high quality, flexible early learning and childcare which is accessible and affordable for all children and families, and matches the best in Europe.

Our priorities are to -

improve outcomes for children, especially those who are more vulnerable or disadvantaged
support parents to work, train or study; or, provide opportunities for employment or family support.
As a first step, through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 which received Royal Assent in March 2014, we will introduce new early learning and childcare entitlements to replace the current funded 12.5 hours/ week during term time of pre-school education for 3 and 4 year olds.

Early learning and childcare is education and care for young children which is delivered in a caring and nurturing setting.

This will be implemented by local authorities, in consultation with local communities.

From August 2014, the following children will be eligible for 600 hours/ year (the equivalent of around 16 hours/ week during term time) early learning and childcare:

3 and 4 year olds, starting from the first term after their third birthday
2 year olds from the point that they are looked after, under a kinship care order, or with a parent appointed guardian.
2 year olds, starting from the first term after their second birthday, (where their 2nd birthday falls on or after 1 March 2014) with a parent in receipt of qualifying benefits; or, the first term after their parent starts receiving qualifying benefits. Those benefits are:
Income support
Jobseekers allowance (income based)
Employment and Support Allowance (income based)
Incapacity or Severe Disablement Allowance
State Pension Credit
Once a child becomes entitled to early learning and childcare, they will stay entitled even if their parent becomes employed, or their situation with parent or carers changes.

Children will stop being entitled to early learning and childcare at the start of the autumn term in August in the same year that they become 5 when they would normally start school. Children who become 5 in January or February can have an additional year of early learning and childcare if their parent or carer wants their child to start school at 5 ½ rather than 4 ½.

Early Learning and Childcare will be arranged by local authorities. This will be a legal entitlement from August 2014, except for 2 year olds with a parent in receipt of qualifying benefits, which will become a legal entitlement from 31 October 2014. However, local authorities will be offering places to those 2 year olds from August 2014 and working to get everyone a place who wants one.

As well as offering an increased number of hours of early learning and childcare, the hours must be offered in a way that allows parents some choice and flexibility over what pattern of hours they can get. 2 ½ hours a day, at a set time of the day, might not help parents with working, training or studying patterns. In the first year of this new system, local authorities may just offer one new model; but, they will increase the range of patterns and models year on year based on feedback to their consultations.

Local authorities may offer -

places at nurseries, nursery classes in schools, playgroups, or child-minders through their own services or through partners in the private or third sector
a range of hours a day, from 2 ½ hours to 8 hours maximum, up to around 16 hours a week
hours or days that are not always in school-term times
Local authorities must have plans to show how they are offering places and improving flexibility year on year, based on consultation with local communities.

Local authorities, and other providers in the private and third sector can provide additional hours and charge for those hours where parents need additional early learning and childcare.

It is estimated that around an additional 8,500 2 year olds will get the entitlement over 2014/15; and, 120,000 3 and 4 year olds will benefit from the increased hours and flexibility in Scotland.

The Scottish Government plans to extend this entitlement to 2 year olds who will qualify in the same way as they would for free school lunches from August 2015. This means around 15% of 2 year olds will be entitled to early learning and childcare in 2014/15, rising to around 27% in 2015/16.

For further information contact your local authority or Family Information Service.

Funding
Outwith free pre-school provision, support for parents with the costs of childcare is provided through tax credits and childcare vouchers, which currently operate under a complex system. These are matters which are reserved to Westminster but the Scottish Government has stated a desire to see a single, progressive and more accessible means of supporting childcare costs.

Tax Credits
Tax credits are payments from the UK Government. If you're responsible for at least one child or young person who normally lives with you, you may qualify for Child Tax Credit. If you work, but earn low wages, you may qualify for childcare element of the Working Tax Credit.

Childcare Vouchers
The Early Years Framework committed the Scottish Government to promoting childcare vouchers among employers in Scotland. The Scottish Government ran a project to promote greater use of childcare vouchers among Scottish employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors with the report now available to the public. This has successfully raised the profile of childcare vouchers through individual contacts and working with the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC).

Childcare vouchers allow employers to support their staff with the costs of childcare. Since 2005 the UK Government has allowed income tax and National Insurance (NI) exemptions for participating employees (up to a maximum of £1196 a year per parent) and NI exemptions for employers (up to £370 a year per participating employee), provided certain conditions are met.

According to the Treasury, to get tax credits or be able to use vouchers, the childcare provider must be:
registered with the Care Inspectorate
a childcare club that is registered with the Care Inspectorate to provide childcare outside of school hours
an approved foster carer - but the care must be for a child who is not the carer's foster child
a person from a registered childcare agency, sitter service or nanny agency providing childcare in your child's home
Your local Childcare/Family Information Service will be able to inform you of all childcare services registered by the Care Inspectorate.

Who qualifies for the childcare element of the working tax credit and vouchers?
to find out if you qualify for tax credits, please visit www.hmrc.gov.uk or contact HMRC on 0845 300 3900.
to find out if your employer offers childcare vouchers please contact your Human Resources department.
Dialogue with the UK Government
The Scottish Government would welcome changes in the benefit system that support hard-pressed families and children. We will continue to urge the UK Government to review the tax credit system and the current way the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit operates. It is complex and bureaucratic, which puts many parents off applying and leads to miscalculations and over-payments. It also fails to recognise the needs of larger families and the additional childcare barriers faced by parents with disabled children.

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