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Free childcare and early education for 3 and 4 year olds

If you have a 3 or 4 year old who is not yet going to school they can get free childcare and education at an Ofsted registered private day nursery, pre-school playgroup or childminder.

All 3 and 4 year olds, regardless of the parents’ immigration status, are entitled to up to 15 hours free education each week for 38 weeks from the term after their third birthday.

Some childcare providers (e.g. day nurseries) may ‘stretch’ the 15 hours across the full year resulting in fewer hours offered per week over more weeks of the year (e.g. 11 hours each week for 51 weeks).

Nurseries, Preschools and Childminders are wonderful places for children to learn and have fun with friends, which supports their development and their overall wellbeing. Attending childcare can be an exciting and joyful experience for children and can also help provide a routine as they develop their social skills. Early years education is an important stage for children where they can flourish and get the best start in life.

If you need any help to find a childcare place please contact the Family Information Service on 020 8583 3470.  Alternatively you can email them at

Childcare and Coronavirus (COVID-19) How settings are keeping children safe

Please see the latest guidance for parents and carers about returning to early years provision including the protective measures that have been put in place such as:

  • cleaning hands more often
  • enhanced cleaning of frequently touched surfaces
  • ensuring good respiratory hygiene
  • ensuring that anyone with symptoms themselves or in their household does not attend.

How do I apply?

You do not need to apply for a free place. 

If you are already using a childcare provider, speak to them directly about getting the 15 hours free with them. 

If you are not using a childcare provider, you can search for one within these links and then ask the provider for  15 hours free for your child. 

Your chosen childcare provider will tell you when your free hours will start from.

Will I have to pay anything?

  • If you have been offered a completely free place then no additional fees should be charged. Please be aware that 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 activities (such as outings). Providers can charge a fee for these. There is no help available to cover these costs .
  • 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 funded 30 hours childcare, Tax Free childcare or the childcare element of universal credit. To find out more please visit the

What happens if I need childcare for more than 15 hours?

Additional hours are chargeable and rates will vary. Your childcare provider can provide you with a list of their charges.

You may be able to get further help from the government to pay for childcare.  You can check to see if you are eligible for any additional support using the government's online childcare calculator or by visiting

My child has a Special Educational Need or Disability

Childcare providers must offer support for children with a disability or identified special educational need, accessing their provision.

If your child has been identified as having special educational needs and/or a disability (SEND) and you are having difficulty in finding a funded place, please call 020 8583 6421 and ask for support in finding a place. 

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.   Further support is also available to childcare providers through the Disability Access Fund to aid access to early years places

Can I use more than one provider?

It is more beneficial to your child to receive the 15 hours at one childcare provider.

If this is not possible the 15 hours can be shared between two childcare providers.

What happens when my child starts attending a school nursery or reception class?

Once your child starts attending a school nursery or reception class they are considered to be using their full 15 hours entitlement.

If your child continues to attend a childcare provider in addition to the school nursery class for the other half of the day, you will be required to pay for the care your child receives at the childcare provider.

More information

If you have any concerns about your child’s 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

Do you know about?...

  • 30 hours funded childcare for 3 and 4 year olds