All three and four-year-olds can get free early education or childcare for 15 hours a week during term time for (38 weeks per year) or spread the hours over the full year (570 hours in total).

You may also be interested in the extended entitlement (additional 15 hours) for working parents. The Childcare Choices website offers a comparison guide for all the ways you could reduce your childcare costs.

When you can claim

Once your child turns three, you can start claiming from the following term date which will be either 1 April, 1 September or 1 January. Funding will stop when they reach compulsory school age - the term of their fifth birthday, or once a child has accepted and taken up a Reception place, even if only on a part-time basis. For further details visit gov.uk.  

How to claim

To claim, you will need to arrange a free early years place for your child with an eligible childcare provider. 

Choosing a childcare provider

You will need to choose an eligible childcare provider that has capacity to offer you a childcare place for the hours you need. Visit our looking for childcare  page where you can search for local provision and look at the types of childcare available.  

Frequently asked questions

You can take the free childcare flexibly.  For example, your child could attend for three hours a day over five days, or five hours a day for three days in a week, or they could take the offer over two days. The provider will work with you to consider your child's needs, your preferred hours/days, and the sessions where they currently have vacancies. They will do their best to give you the hours you want, but it may not be possible to offer you exactly what you are seeking.

If, after talking it through, the provider is unable to care for your child at the times you want, you will need to find another provider.  

You can also split your free hours between providers to provide cover that meets your needs.

Once you have agreed your hours or sessions for your child, you should be asked to sign a Parent/Carer Declaration with your childcare provider.  This provides you and the provider with a document which clearly shows the agreed hours or sessions that your child should attend. This helps in case of any dispute, particularly one that involves money or the agreement the provider has with the council funding team.

If you decide you want to change provider during a term, it's best in the first instance to speak to your current provider about this, as we don't allow funding to move within a term. You may be expected to pay for the rest of the term if you do move your child without an agreement to transfer funding. Funding will start again with your new provider at the start of the next term.

There should not be any additional or conditional charges made for claiming the free hours, such as top-up fees or uniform charges. Providers can charge for meals and snacks, consumables and optional activities as part of the free entitlement delivery, but parents are not required to pay these as a condition of taking up their child's free entitlement place. Where parents choose to purchase additional hours, or optional activities, this is a private arrangement between the provider and parent.

Providers can charge a deposit to parents to secure a place for their child. This deposit should be refunded once a child has taken up a place.  Full details about the payment and refund of any deposit paid should be clearly stated in the provider’s information to parents.

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 part of the cost of childcare, and not all of it.

Further information on .gov.uk:

Help paying for childcare
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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