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Extended free childcare entitlement

Children of eligible working parents are able to access up to 15 hours of free childcare alongside their universal entitlement of 15 hours per week. Using both the universal and extended entitlements you could get up to 30 hours a week of free early learning and childcare in a participating day nursery, pre-school or with a childminder (please note that not all settings provide the free entitlements and/or extended entitlements).

 On this page you will find further guidance under the following sections:

Is my child eligible?

A child is entitled to the additional 15 hours of free childcare from the term following their third birthday (see dates below) and up to compulsory school age (or where they enter a maintained Reception class) where the child's parent(s) meets the eligibility criteria set out below:

  • the parent of the child (and their partner where applicable) should be seeking the free childcare to enable them to work;
  • the parent of the child (and their partner where applicable) should also be in qualifying paid work. Each parent (or the single parent in a lone parent household) will need to expect to earn the equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage or their national minimum wage rate per week;
  • where one or both parents are in receipt of benefits in connection with sickness or parenting, they are treated as though they are in paid work;
  • where one parent (in a couple household) is in receipt or could be entitled to be in receipt of specified benefits related to caring, incapacity for work or limited capability for work that they are treated as though they are in paid work;
  • where a parent is in a 'start-up period' (i.e. they are newly self-empoloyed) they do not need to demostrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months in order to qualify for the extended entitlement;
  • the parent of the child (and their partner where applicable) must not have an income exceeding £100,000 (each).

The following dates show when your child is eligible for Free Early Education Entitlement and Free Childcare. 

A child born on or between …

Will become eligible for a free place from …

1 April and 31 August

1 September following their 3rd birthday

1 September and 31 December

1 January following their 3rd birthday

1 January and 31 March

1 April following their 3rd birthday

Children will be unable to access the extended free childcare entitlement if they are taking up a full time place in a state-funded school reception class or an independent school reception class.

How do I apply?

If you believe you meet the eligibility criteria above you can apply for your child’s free early learning place on the national government website  You will need to provide a variety of information including your National Insurance number and you and your child's details on the system.

If you are eligible you will be provided with a 30 hours code. You will need to provide this to your chosen provider at the earliest opportunity.

You must apply and be identified as eligible the term before you wish to access a 30 hours place. The table below shows when you will be able to access a place:

A validity start date…

Will become eligible for the extended hours from …

1 April and 31 August

1 September following their 3rd birthday

1 September and 31 December

1 January following their 3rd birthday

1 January and 31 March

1 April following their 3rd birthday

In addition you will be expected to re-confirm your 30 hours code every three months. Failure to do so may result in either not being able to access your child's new 30 hours place or your child's 30 hours place being withdrawn.

Where your child is already accessing a place but you are identified as no longer being eligible when you re-confirm (or if you don't re-confirm when you should) you will be given at least one half term's notice.

The provider will ask you to complete a Parent Declaration Form which will confirm that your child will be attending the setting. This will need to be completed before your child accesses their place and will need to be updated by you and the setting each term. This will show the number of free early education hours are being offered each term. This information must be provided on the form before you are asked to sign - if it isn't please ask the provider to confirm these details first.

Complaints process

If you have any difficulties with the application process you will need to contact the Childcare Service on 0300 123 4097. We do not have access to the application records and therefore will be unable to assist with this.

If you are having difficulty in finding or accessing a place, or if you have concerns that your child's place is not meeting the requirements, please contact Families Information Direct (FiND) in the first instance.

sFinding a childcare setting

You can find a full list of participating childcare settings here. If you would like further support in finding a suitable provider please contact FiND.

Will I have to pay anything?

The offer of a free early education and childcare place must be offered ‘free at the point of delivery’. This means that if your child is only receiving the free hours without any additional paid hours or services then you will not be expected to make any payment to the provider in order to access your child’s place.

If you wish to access more than the maximum hours per week or additional services please see the section ‘Accessing more than the maximum hours per week or additional services’.

What your child’s place will offer

The early learning and childcare places provide up to 30 hours a week of free early education and childcare and is usually offered over 38 weeks per year.

Some settings are only open 15 hours per week. However, as you can access your hours in more than one setting you could access 15 hours in one setting and 15 hours in another, or in any combination. You would however need to check that:

  • You agree with both settings which will access the universal entitlement and which you will access the extended entitlement with
  • You will only be able to access the extended entitlement in a setting that is signed up to offer this
  • You can access up to 3 settings per day however your child cannot move between more than two premises on any one day. For example you could access a breakfast club and nursery class at a school (one site) and then go to a childminder (the second site)

In settings open for more than 3 hours per day it may also be possible to take the full entitlement over 2, 3 or 4 days. Your child must access no more than 10 hours in any one day and this can be provided between 7.00am and 7.00pm.

If the setting is open all year round (51 weeks per year) they may be able to provide you with a ‘stretched offer’. This means you access fewer hours each week but for 51 weeks of the year.

Whether you wish to access just the free early learning place, the extended entitlement or if you choose to access additional hours or services, the provider’s offer to you should always be clear and transparent. Where you are accessing any unfunded hours or additional services you should ensure this is clearly explained by your provider and a contract is put in place that clearly states the agreement. You should ask to see this before committing to a childcare place. If you are in any doubt, ask questions before agreeing to a place.

Accessing more than the maximum hours per week or additional services

If you work or have other commitments that mean your child needs to attend a setting for more than 30 hours per week (or 1140 hours per year) then you have the option to pay for additional hours. Private day nurseries and childminders usually offer full day care and usually for 51 weeks of the year. They may be able to offer you greater flexibility but as these are privately run businesses you should check the cost for unfunded hours or additional services.

Additional services can include a cooked lunch or additional classes such as learning an additional language. A childcare provider is entitled to charge for these services.

If you are only accessing the free early learning place then you can choose to provide a packed lunch which would not incur an additional cost, or pay the additional fee for the cooked lunch.

All childcare providers should have a clear and concise charging policy so that there is no misunderstanding of any costs. The arrangements for payment are a private matter between providers and parents.

How a childcare setting makes a claim for providing free early education

Your childcare provider is required to make a claim. They are then reimbursed for the hours offered free to you. However as stated previously where you are solely accessing a free early learning place this should be provided ‘free at the point of delivery’ so you should not be expected to make any payment in order to access the place.

Further advice and support

For further information and support please contact Families Information Direct (FiND).

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