How to claim free childcare

Yes, there is such a thing as free childcare and it's not just a loving and benevolent grandparent! If your child is aged 3 to 4 years old and hasn't yet started school, then they're entitled to a certain amount of Government funded childcare. Some 2 year olds are also eligible.

A woman sits at a table with three children, a colourful toy in the foreground.

Early years education funding

Every child is entitled to early years education funding from the start of the first school term after their third birthday. Terms are defined as the start of the official autumn, spring or summer terms, so children whose birthdays are in the first half of a term can't start until the next full term begins.

The funding durations vary throughout the UK and full details for your area can be found on the gov.uk website but mostly follow the term times and are not available during school holidays.

The early education and childcare must come from an approved childcare provider, and funding stops when the child starts reception class or when they compulsory school age, if later.

15 hours free childcare

15 hours of free childcare is calculated based on term time. In England usually equates to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year. That’s 570 hours each year. Separate schemes exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

You may be able to get 30 hours a week of free early education and childcare. However, this depends on whether you meet the following criteria found here.

To find out what free early childcare is available in your area of England check your postcode on the gov.uk website.

Two year old nursery funding

In England and Scotland some two-year-olds can get free early education and childcare.

Parents must be receiving one of the following:

  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit
  • Support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • Tax credits and have an annual income under £16,190 before tax
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

A child can also qualify if they’re looked after by the local council, have special educational needs, get Disability Living Allowance or if they’ve left care under a special guardianship, child arrangements or adoption order.

30 hours free childcare

Up to 30 hours of free childcare (1,140 hours per year) is available to some 3 to 4 year olds.

Eligibility depends on things like working status, earnings, the child’s circumstances and your nationality. The 30 hours of free childcare does not interfere with other claims for Universal Credit, tax credits, childcare vouchers and Tax-Free Childcare.

You can apply when your child is 2 years and 36 weeks old (approximately 20 and ½ months).

Early years funding - what type of childcare?

The childcare you can claim for must be registered and the Government has authorised a number of places throughout the country. It's probably wise to check with your childcare provider before booking if you will be taking advantage of the funding after your child's third birthday.

A range of different types of childcare settings have places including nursery schools and classes, Sure Start Children's Centres, privately owned day nurseries, play groups, pre-schools and childminders.

Contact your local council to find out about registered childminders in your area.

Note: We take care to ensure all Talking Finance content is accurate at the time of publication. Individual circumstances differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions.