Free childcare and early education for 3 & 4 year olds

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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 & 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).  

How do I apply for a free place?

You do not need to apply for a free place.  If you are already using a childcare provider, speak to them directly about your free place. If you are not using a childcare provider, you can search for one within these links and then ask the provider for a free place. 

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

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.

What happens if I need childcare beyond the free 15 hours?

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

Is there any help available to pay additional costs?

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

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 an additional need and/or has been identified as having special educational needs and/or a disability (SEND) and you are having difficulty in finding a free place, please call 020 8583 6421 and ask for support in finding a free 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 entitlement at one childcare provider. If this is not possible the 15 hours can be split 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 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 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

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