Parents can go online to find out what childcare they are eligible for under plans which will see nurseries expand to provide more places and council funding for casual care.
More details have been announced of previously announced reforms to allow some families with children up to nine months old to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week – set out by chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the March Budget.
The Department for Education said parents in England can visit an eligibility checker online to see what they are entitled to, depending on their earnings and their child's age.
The government said £100 million is being made available for nurseries and nurseries, with funding intended to support childcare facilities to increase their physical space, which the department says is expected to add thousands of new places across the country.
Following Mr Hunt's aim for all schools to be able to offer care at every side of the school day by September 2026, local authorities will also now receive details of how much of the £289m they will receive – based on the ‘ anticipated need”.
Early years chiefs have previously raised concerns that nurseries and nurseries could struggle to deliver extra places for younger children from next year if government-provided funding does not cover rising costs.
The free childcare offer for working parents will be available to those with two-year-olds from April 2024, covering around half a million parents, but will initially be limited to 15 hours.
From September 2024, the 15-hour offer will be extended to children from nine months, helping nearly one million parents in total, and the full 30-hour offer to all under-fives will come from September 2025.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “No one should have to choose between having a career and raising a family, so I am determined that every parent who wants to should have access to the childcare they need.
“Flexibility is at the heart of our plans to transform childcare for families, whether it's offering quality childcare outside of school hours or ensuring there are more early years places where they are needed most.
“This is the biggest investment in childcare in our history, so I encourage people with young children or those thinking about starting a family to visit the Childcare Choices website to find out what they are entitled to.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT association of school leaders, said much more investment was needed.
“Unfortunately, the money behind this expansion is a fraction of what is needed. Our members are also wondering where they will find the extra staff,” he said.
“There is a real risk that the Government's promises will fail in reality if they do not urgently review funding and resources.”
Helen Hayes, Labour's shadow children and early years minister, added: “Without more detail on whether this is new money, how many places it will offer and how the new childcare will be staffed, this promise is not worth the paper it is written.
“The Conservatives have overseen a dramatic fall in the number of childcare providers and places – they simply cannot be trusted to deliver the change in childcare that families need and deserve.”
The department also said the children's start-up grant scheme will open for applications until the end of November.
The grant – £600 for those registered with Ofsted and £1,200 for those registered with a childcare agency – aims to boost the number of children in work to offer parents more flexible childcare.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Strid said: “Stimulating employment is key to growing our economy and the extra money provided to parents on Universal Credit will give them the flexibility and security they need to find work, support their children and reap the benefits of work.
“I urge every parent to access this resource to see what help is available and speak to one of the thousands of Work Coaches in our Jobcentres who are there to help them find work or improve their skills.”
Parents can visit childcarechoices.gov.uk to use the eligibility check.