Some 2 year olds are entitled to free early learning and childcare. The eligibility starts in the school term after the child’s second birthday. 

Please note: if you have received a letter with a unique reference code, and you meet the eligibility criteria, you do not need to apply online and can go straight to a participating childcare provider. Please check the expiry date on your letter because you will need to give the code to your childcare provider by this date.

Apply for free childcare for 2 year olds

Eligibility criteria for two years old free early learning and childcare

Children born in the periodBecome eligible for funding at the start of term beginning or followingSchool term
1 January - 31 March 1 April Summer
1 April - 31 August 1 September Autumn
1 September - 31 December 1 January Spring

Either parent must be in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Working Tax Credit provided your annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) does not exceed £16,190
  • Income Support
  • Income Based Job Seekers Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under part VI of the Immigration & Asylum Act 1999
  • Child Tax Credit provided your annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) does not exceed £16,190
  • Guarantee element of State Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit

Or, the child:

  • has been adopted from local authority care
  • has been looked after by a local authority
  • has left care through a special guardianship or child arrangements order
  • is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance
  • has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan

Although not all 2 year olds are entitled to a free place, all children become eligible for free childcare and early learning places from the school term after their third birthday. Free early learning and childcare for 3 and 4 year olds.

What is the entitlement?

Children are entitled to 570 hours in each 12 month period from the term they become eligible until they reach compulsory school age, the term following their fifth birthday.

The hours you take up are spread evenly over the year and can be taken as a maximum of 15 hours a week over up to 38 weeks in a year or stretched with fewer hours a week over more weeks in a year. The hours and sessions which are available for free childcare will depend on the individual childcare setting and will need to be agreed in advance. There should not be any additional costs attached to claiming the free hours, such as top up fees or uniform charges. If you need further advice please contact our Family and Childcare Information helpline on 0345 045 1360.

What are the benefits for my child?

Children benefit from early learning, we know this from research. Good quality early learning:

  • helps your child to be happy, confident, sociable and curious
  • gives opportunities to be active and learn through fun and play, indoors and outdoors
  • offers many activities including creative and messy play
  • helps them to become effective learners and ready for school
  • has a long term impact on their development

How do I know if I am eligible?

You may receive a letter letting you know that your 2 year old is eligible. If you do, just take the letter to a participating provider of your choice and discuss taking up a place with them before the expiry date.

  • If your child meets one of the non-benefit related criteria, you have not received a letter from the council, you have mislaid your letter, or the code in your letter has now expired, you can
    apply online.
  • Alternatively, you may go along to your local Children’s Centre who will be able to assess whether your child is eligible.

Whichever way you apply, you will receive an authorisation code which you need to give to the early learning and childcare provider. The authorisation code can be used at more than one provider and is valid until the term following your child's third birthday.

How do I find a place?

You can find a list of childcare providers near where you live who have been approved to offer free places for 2 year olds on the Family Information Directory. You can then contact the childcare provider directly to see if they have any vacancies. It is best to do this as soon as possible, because some childcare settings have long waiting lists. Visit the finding a childcare place page for more information.

  • If your child already attends childcare, please ask your childcare provider if they offer free places for 2 year olds.
  • If you need further support you can call the Families & Childcare Information helpline on 0345 045 1360 or visit your nearest Children's Centre.

If Peterborough City Council is your local authority, you can apply for free childcare on their website.

Will it affect my tax credits?

Childcare costs are included in the calculations made by HMRC to ensure that you receive the right amount of credit that you are entitled to. If you already pay for childcare and claim child tax credit to cover the cost, you must notify HMRC as soon as possible if taking up a free place reduces the cost of your childcare by £10 or more a week.

You do not need to notify HMRC if your cost does not change, for example if you use the free childcare to increase the number of hours your child attends. You will always be better off taking up a free place as tax credits only contribute to a part of the full cost of childcare and not all of it.

There is HMRC guidance for parents or carers who may be having difficulty claiming childcare support through tax credits or childcare vouchers if their childcare provider is a school. 

Tax credits: working out your childcare costs 
Tax credits calculator

Early years funding is a national scheme administered by local authorities in their areas. To find out more about the legal framework and principles go to Early Years Funding Code of Practice for Local Authorities.

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