All three and four year olds living in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education and childcare a year. This is usually offered as 15 hours a week for up to 38 weeks a year and is a universal entitlement. It can be claimed through an Ofsted registered childcare provider the term after your child’s third birthday.
From September 2017 the government will be increasing the free hours from 15 to 30 a week for children of working families who meet the eligibility criteria. This means that eligible children will be able to receive up to 1140 hours of free childcare a year. These changes will be introduced as part of the Childcare Act 2016.
Below is a list of our most frequently asked questions about the extended entitlement.
- How can I find a childcare provider offering the extended entitlement?
- Who will be eligible to receive the extended entitlement?
- Do I need to be working 16 hours a week to qualify?
- How can I check if I am eligible?
- If I am eligible when can I apply?
- What happens if I no longer meet the eligibility criteria?
- If I am eligible when can my child start to receive the extended entitlement?
- When can my child use the extended entitlement hours?
- Can I use the extra free hours with more than one childcare provider?
- Do I have to use the full 30 hours?
- Where can I find further information about these changes?
How can I find a childcare provider offering the extended entitlement?
You can find details of Ofsted registered childcare providers who are planning to offer the extra hours in our Childcare Finder. Just search for childcare in your local area and then filter by 'Planning to offer up to 30 hours Free Early Education for 3 and 4 year olds'.
If your chosen childcare provider is not on the list it may be worth speaking to them to see if they are considering offering the extra hours as not all childcare providers have notified us yet of their decision.
Who will be eligible to receive the extended entitlement?
The extra free hours will be made available to families where both parents (or the sole parent in a lone parent family):
- are working and earn on average a weekly minimum amount equivalent to working 16 hours at either National Minimum Wage (NMW) or National Living Wage (NLW)
- have an income of less than £100,000 each per year
- live in England (parents who are non-EEA nationals must have recourse to public funds to qualify)
You may still be eligible to apply if you or your partner:
- are taking paid time off work, such as maternity leave, paternity leave or sick leave
- are temporarily away from England for a period of up to 6 months, such as on military duty
You can also apply if either you or your partner are employed or self-employed and one of you gets one or more of the following benefits:
- contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
- Carer's Allowance
- Incapacity Benefit or long-term Incapacity Benefit
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- National Insurance credits because of incapacity or limited capability for work
- you've been assessed as having limited capability for work for Universal Credit purposes
Do I need to be working 16 hours a week to qualify?
The eligibility checker has been designed to accommodate parents with fluctuating incomes, such as seasonal workers, those on zero hours and the self-employed. So you do not need to actually work 16 hours every week but your earnings over the next 3 months must be equivalent to the amount you would earn if you worked 16 hours a week at either the National Minimum Wage (NMW) or National Living Wage (NLW).
This currently equates to £120 a week (or £6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 a week (or £5,800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old. However, newly self-employed parents who are still in their 'start-up period' will not be required to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months.
How can I check if I am eligible?
You can find out more and check your eligibility for the 30 hours through the Childcare Choices website or by using the Childcare Calculator. These will also show if you can get any additional government help with childcare costs.
If you meet the eligibility criteria for the additional hours you should also qualify for Tax-Free Childcare, which can be used to help pay for any additional childcare costs. You will be able to apply for this and the 30 hours at the same time.
If I am eligible when can I apply?
If your child will be 3 or over by the 31 August 2017 you can apply now through the childcare service section of the gov.uk website. At the start of your application process you’ll be asked to create a Government Gateway account if you don’t already have one. The website will then guide you through setting up your own childcare service account. If you are unable to apply online or have any problems with the application process you can contact the childcare service Customer Interaction Centre on 0300 123 4097 for support. If you disagree with the eligibility outcome you will be able to use the HMRC's review and appeals process.
Once your eligibility is confirmed you will be given an 11 digit ‘eligibility code’ to take to your chosen childcare provider. You can find this in the 30 hours free childcare section of your new childcare service account. It will usually start with 5000 but some temporary codes may begin with 11. Your childcare provider will ask you to complete and sign a 30 Hours Free Childcare Eligibility Form. This will allow Surrey's Finance and Practice Team to check and confirm your eligibility. You will need to reconfirm this every three months to continue claiming the extra hours.
You do not need to apply through the childcare service if you only want to use the universal 15 hours of Free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds.
What happens if I no longer meet the eligibility criteria?
If your family no longer meets the criteria you will stop being eligible to claim the extra hours. However, there will be a grace period until the start of the next funded period to give you the opportunity to regain employment. If your circumstances change during the grace period you can reapply again and continue to receive the extra hours
You will still be able to receive the universal 15 hours of Free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds even if you are no longer eligible for the extended entitlement.
If I am eligible when can my child start to receive the extended entitlement?
Children who are already eligible for Free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds or will be by 31 August 2017 will be able to receive the extra hours from September 2017.
Other eligible children can receive the extra free hours from the start of the term following their third birthday as shown below.
|Child born between||Can receive the free hours from|
|1 April 2014 to 31 August 2014||September 2017 (Autumn)|
|1 September 2014 to 31 December 2014||January 2018 (Spring)|
|1 January 2015 to 31 March 2015||April 2018 (Summer)|
|1 April 2015 to 31 August 2015||September 2018 (Autumn)|
Provided they continue to meet the eligibility criteria children can receive the additional hours until they either start in a reception class at a local authority maintained school or reach compulsory school age (which is the school term after their fifth birthday).
When can my child use the extended entitlement hours?
It is proposed that the free hours will be delivered as flexibly as possible and there is no requirement for them to be taken on a particular day of the week. However, you won’t be able to:
- have any time before 6am or after 8pm
- claim more than 10 hours a day
- claim more than 30 hours a week
- claim more than 1140 hours per year
- use the funding at more than two childcare providers in one day
You may also be able to stretch the funding across a full year if your childcare provider offers this but the number of hours per week would be reduced. For example, 1140 hours per annum is 30 hours per week for 38 weeks but if it was stretched over 50 weeks would be 22.8 hours per week.
Can I use the extended entitlement with more than one childcare provider?
Yes, you can choose to take the free hours with up to three childcare providers. However, you must not exceed 30 free hours a week or use it at more than two childcare providers a day.
Do I have to use the full 30 hours?
No, you can use anything from 16 to 30 hours you do not have to use the full 30 hours.
Where can I find further information about these changes?
You can also find information about how the 30 hours should be delivered in the government's Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities which takes effect from September 2017.