Children are entitled to 570 hours of FREE early education or childcare a year. This is often taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year, starting the school term after a child turns 3 years.
When is my child eligible for a free place?
If your child’s third birthday falls between:
Your child will become eligible for a free place from:
1st January and 31st March
The start of the Summer term (April)
1st April and 31st August
The start of the Autumn term (September)
1st September and 31st December
The start of the Spring term (January)
What are the benefits of high quality early years education or childcare?
Early education is good for a child’s social, physical and mental development. It also helps them to prepare for school, giving them the best start in life.
Children will meet and play with other children, this will help them to build their confidence, the areas of learning include:
Communication and language
Personal, social and emotional development
Your child will:
Experience new and exciting activities
Make new friends
Build their confidence and social skills
Improve their speech and language development
As a parent free early education can help you:
Save on childcare costs
Have time to explore work and/or training opportunities
Take on more paid work
Support your child to play and learn
Have more time to yourself
You will be eligible for the 30-hour funded childcare offer if:
There is no requirement to work a certain amount of hours per week – it is all about how much you earn. This means if you only work 10 hours a week but earn £12 per hour, you will meet the minimum earning threshold. Apprentices are also eligible as long as they earn the equivalent to 16 hours at the apprentice minimum wage.
This applies if you are self-employed or on a zero-hours contract and expect to meet the earning criteria on average over the three months after you have applied for the 30-hours. HMRC will look at data such as your previous earnings to consider whether you are likely to meet the criteria and may contact you for further information if they are unsure.
If you are starting up your own business, you will not be expected to meet the minimum earning criteria in your first year of trading. You will need to provide a Unique Tax Reference (UTR) number to HMRC so that they can check your income at the end of the tax year.
If you are not working but you expect to take up paid work within 14 days, you can still apply for 30 hours, as long as you expect to meet the income criteria over the coming three months.
If you are a single parent and meet the above criteria, you will be eligible for the 30 hours. If you live with a partner, you both must meet the above criteria. This still applies if one of you is not the child’s parent – for example, if you have remarried or have started living with a new partner. If you are separated/divorced from your child’s parent, the eligibility rules will only apply to the parent that the child normally lives with (and their new partner if they are part of the same household).
You will not have to meet the minimum earnings criteria if:
You and your partner are employed but one or both of you is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity, adoption leave, or on statutory sick pay
You are employed but your partner either has substantial caring responsibilities, or is disabled or incapacitated, or vice versa (i.e. your partner is employed but you have caring responsibilities or are disabled or incapacitated). This is dependent on you or your partner being entitled to specific disability or caring benefits.
You will be able to apply for both the 30-hour offer and tax-free childcare using a single application available online via the Childcare Choices website .
To complete the application, you will need to provide details such as your name, address and national insurance number, as well as whether you expect to meet the income requirements over the next three months and whether you are in receipt of any benefits. If you live with a partner, you will need to provide the same information for them as well. This will enable HMRC to decide whether your child is eligible for the 30 hours (as well as tax-free childcare).
If you are eligible, you will be given an 11-digit code that you will need to take to your childcare provider along with your national insurance number and your child’s birth certificate.
Your provider will then use the government’s eligibility checking system to check the code is valid. If it is, they will be able to book your child’s place – but bear in mind that providers don’t have to take part in the 30-hour offer, so be sure to speak to your childcare provider about what they are able to offer for your family.
You will need to reconfirm your eligibility every three months and will receive a reminder text message or email from the government before the deadline. If you give false information about your eligibility, you could be fined up to £3000.
Q: My child is going to turn three next year. How soon can I access the 30-hours?
A: Your child will be eligible for the 30 hours offer from the term after they turn three, or the term after you receive your eligibility code – whichever is later.
For example, if your child turns three on 25 March, and you apply for the 30-hours on 27 March, your child will be eligible for a place from 1 April (i.e. the start of the spring term). However, if your child turns three on 25 March but you don’t apply for the 30 hours until 5 April, your child won’t be eligible for a place until 1 September (i.e. the start of the autumn term).
Q: If I’m not eligible for the 30-hour offer, can I still get my 15 hours?
A: Yes. The 15-hour offer is still universal so if you’re not eligible for a 30-hour place, you will still be eligible for the 15-hour offer.
Q: What happens if I become ineligible for the offer e.g. because I lose my job?
A: If you no longer meet the eligibility criteria, your child’s 30-hour place will continue to be funded for a ‘grace period’. You should discuss this with your provider if and when you lose eligibility. The table below outlines how long the grace period will last, depending on when you become ineligible for the offer.
Once the grace period has expired, you will still be eligible for the 15-hour funded childcare offer. If you have been taking up the 30 hours at two providers, you can decide which provider you want to continue taking up your 15 hour places from.
Q: Is there any difference in how the first 15 hours and the second 15 hours under the 30-hour offer will be delivered?
A: No, there is no difference. Childcare providers will provide early years care and education that follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework across the whole 30 hours.
Q: I want to access the 30-hours but my provider is asking for a deposit. Can they do this?
A: Yes. Under government rules, providers can charge a refundable deposit for funded places for two-, three- and four-year-olds. Each local council will have their own arrangements with providers for when deposits are refunded to parents.