30 hours free childcare for 3 & 4 year olds

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All three and four year olds are entitled to up to 15 hours of free childcare and early education a week for 38 weeks a year. Eligible working families are now also entitled up to an additional 15 hours - 30 hours in total. Children can access these entitlements in school nursery classes, private day nurseries, pre-school playgroups and with childminders. 

Can I have 30 hours free childcare?

Parents of three and four year olds need to meet the following criteria to be eligible for 30 hours free childcare:

  • They earn or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months. This equates to:
    • £131 a week (£6,812 a year) for each parent aged over 25
    • £123.20 a week (£6,406.40 a year) for each parent aged 21 to 24  
    • £98.40 a week (5,116.80 a year) for each parent aged 18 to 20
    • £62.40 a week for apprentices in their first year.

This applies whether the parent is in paid employment, self-employed or on zero hours contract.

  • Have an annual income of less than £100,000 if they are a one parent family or less than £100,000 each if they are a two parent family.
  • The parent (and their partner where applicable) should be seeking the free childcare to enable them to work.
  • Where one or both parents are on maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or if they are on statutory sick leave.
  • Where one parent meets the income criteria and the other is unable to work because:
    • they are disabled
    • have caring responsibilities
    • been assessed as having limited capability to work.
  • Where a parent is in a ‘start-up period’ (i.e. they are newly self-employed) they do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months.
  • If one or both parents is a non-EEA national, the parent applying must have recourse to public funds

If you are a foster parent

  • Additional criteria will apply, please read the section 'I am a foster parent, can my foster child receive 30 hours?'

A parent will not meet the criteria when:

  • Either parent has an income of more than £100,000
  • If one or both parents is a non-EEA national and the parent applying does not have recourse to public funds
  • The child is already attending full time reception class. You will not be entitled to any of the additional 30 hours.

What happens if a parent loses eligibility?

  • They will receive a ‘grace period’ – this means they will be able to keep their childcare for a short period.
  • Once the ‘grace period’ has lapsed, the parent should be entitled to the universal 15-hour entitlement

How do I apply?

If you are a foster parent you will need to speak to the child's Social Worker to apply.

For all other parent and carers, eligibility will be checked by HM Revenue & Customs via an online application.

 Check your eligibility and apply here....

When do I apply?

You can start the application process from when your child is 2 years and 36 weeks old but you cannot take the 30 hours free childcare until the term after your child's third birthday.

You have to reconfirm your eligibility every 3 months. If you apply more than 3 months before the term starts, you’ll still have to reconfirm your eligibility in your account in order to keep your code valid. You must have a valid code by the end of the month before the term starts.

Where can my child get their 30 hours free childcare?

Early years providers such as schools, before and after school clubs, childminders, private day nurseries and pre-schools can choose to offer the extended entitlement.  This is optional for providers therefore your preferred provider may not be offering places or they may only be offering a limited number of places.

You can use more than one provider for your 30 hours but you can only use a maximum of two sites in a single day. For example, you may wish your child to go to a school nursery class in the morning and then to a childminder in the afternoon.

Will I have to pay for anything?

Will I have to pay anything?

  • Please check if your childcare provider can offer you a completely free place.  If you have been offered a completely free place then no additional fees should be charged as some childcare providers can only offer a limited number of free places 
  • Some childcare providers charge a refundable deposit, this should be returned to you one week after your child’s start date 
  • Free childcare is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables (such as nappies or sun cream), additional hours or additional activities (such as outings). Providers can charge a fee for these additions 
  • Please check if there will be any additional charges before your child starts their place

If you require more hours than the free hours then you can always look at other forms of help with childcare costs such as tax free childcare or the childcare element of universal credit. To find out more please visit the Childcare Choices website.

Reconfirm your code every three months

To keep getting your 30 hours free childcare, you must sign in every 3 months and confirm your details are up to date.

This does not apply to foster parents as the local authority will reconfirm your code for you.  Please speak to your Social Worker for more information.

For all other parents and carers to sign in, you’ll need the Government Gateway ID and password you used to apply.

Sign in

Can I take my child’s 30 hours free childcare all year round i.e. during school holidays?

Yes, some providers may offer a ‘stretched entitlement’ which allows you to use fewer hours a week over more weeks. In addition, you may use more than one provider in order to be able to access the full 30 hours e.g. a school nursery class offering 15 hours and a childminder offering the remaining 15 hours. 

My child has a special educational need or disability

Childcare providers must offer support for children accessing their provision with a disability or identified special educational need. Once your child has enrolled in either a day nursery or pre-school, they may be able to access extra support through the Early Years SEN Team.  In addition to this,  further support is available to childcare providers to help support your child through the Disability Access Fund.

I am a foster parent, can my foster child receive 30 hours?

Your foster child will be able to receive up to 30 hours of free childcare if the following criteria is met:

  • that accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan
  • you and your partner, if applicable, are engaging in paid work outside of your fostering roles       

If you think you may be eligible, please start by discussing this with your Social Worker. 

You do not have to take up the full 30 hours.  There is no requirement on the type of work (which includes self-employment) or the number of hours that you or your partner have to work  to get the 30 hours.  There is no minimum earnings limit (although you must be engaging in paid work). You can claim 30 hours from the term after your foster child turns three and you have received an eligibility code from the local authority.

More information

If you have any concerns about your child’s free place, it is very important that you always discuss these with your childcare provider. If after speaking to them you are still not happy then please see the complaints procedure