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Free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds

In England all three and four year olds are entitled to up to 15 hours of free childcare and early education a week for up to 38 weeks a year. This is to give children the opportunity to take part in planned learning activities, and help prepare them for school through the early learning goals set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage. This is a universal offer and is available to all children regardless of their family circumstances.

The government is proposing to increase the free hours from 15 to 30 a week from September 2017. However, this will only be made available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum wage (NMW) or National Living wage (NLW), and less than £100,000 per year. You can find information about the government’s proposal to extend the free hours in their Childcare Bill: policy statement and on our web page 30 hours free childcare for working parents.

Below is a list of our most frequently asked questions about the universal offer. You can find additional information in our parent booklet available to download below.


When will my child be eligible to receive free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds?

Children become eligible to receive this from the start of the term following their third birthday.

Child born betweenCan have a free place from
1 January 2014 to 31 March 2014April 2017 (Summer)
1 April 2014 to 31 August 2014September 2017 (Autumn)
1 September 2014 to 31 December 2014January 2018 (Spring)

Your child can continue to receive free childcare 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.

Children who start at a non maintained (independent) school are able to continue to claim the funding until they reach statutory school age, which is the term after their fifth birthday.

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When can my child use the free hours?

Children are entitled to a maximum of 570 hours per year. These will usually be offered as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks a year. However, the free hours may only be available within set times and sessions so you will need to speak to the childcare provider to see if the hours they offer suit your needs.

If your childcare provider is open Monday to Friday term time only the maximum number of days they can claim each term is:

  • Summer 2017 - 61 days
  • Autumn 2017 - 70 days
  • Spring 2018 - 55 days
  • Summer 2018 - 65 days

However, you won't be able to have:

  • More than 10 hours in one day
  • Less than 2.5 hours in one day
  • Any time before 7am or after 7pm
  • More than 15 hours a week
  • More than 570 hours per year

Some childcare providers may be able to stretch the hours throughout the year rather than just during term time so for example you could receive 10.96 hours per week for a maximum of 52 weeks a year. If this would suit you better speak to the childcare provider to see if they are able to offer you a more flexible option.

However, once your child starts at a childcare provider they will have to continue claiming either term time or stretched hours until the funded period after their next birthday to ensure they do not exceed the maximum of hours.

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How can I claim free childcare?

You will not be able to claim directly. Childcare providers registered on The Surrey Directory of Early Years Providers, who have agreed to follow the Local Code of Practice, will be able to claim it on your behalf. These include pre school playgroups, day nurseriesnursery units of independent schools and childminders.

Alternatively you can claim free childcare through a maintained nursery school or class attached to a Local Education Authority (LEA) school. If they offer less than 15 hours you may be able to claim the balance with another childcare provider.

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How can I find a childcare provider offering free childcare?

You can find details of childcare providers who offer free childcare in Surrey on our Childcare Finder. Just enter your location or postcode and scroll down to select Yes to Registered for Free Early Education on the right hand side.

Our Choosing childcare booklet (PDF) has information and advice on how to find, choose and pay for childcare. You might also like to have a look at our At my childminder's photobook (PDF) for real life snapshots of how children in the care of a childminder might spend their time.

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Will the childcare provider ask me to sign any forms?

The first term that a childcare provider claims on your behalf you will be asked to fill in a Registration form. They will check your child's birth certificate or passport as proof of identity and eligibility.

They will also ask you to complete a Declaration of attendance form at the beginning of every funded period to record how many free hours they are claiming for your child. If you want to increase or decrease the number of hours your child attends at a later date you will need to fill in a Change of hours form.

You should read the Parent or legal guardian declaration on these forms carefully before signing as they form part of your legal contract with the childcare provider.

You may also be asked to provide some information to see if your family meet the criteria for the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP). This scheme provides additional government funding for childcare providers to improve the education they provide for eligible 3 and 4 year olds receiving free childcare.

If your child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance you may also be asked to complete a Disability Access Fund form (Word) so your childcare provider can claim funding to help support your child at their setting.

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Can I claim free childcare at more than one childcare setting?

Yes, you can choose to take up the free hours with more than one childcare provider if this suits you better. So, for example, your child could have 9 hours in a pre school playgroup and 6 hours with a childminder.

However, if you split the hours between a childcare provider who offers term time and one who offers stretched it is unlikely that you will be able to claim the full 570 hours.

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Can I move my free hours to a new childcare provider once the term has started?

You can only move the funding for the free hours to a new childcare provider if:

  • you move house and it's now too far to travel to your current childcare provider
  • you change jobs and the hours your childcare provider offers no longer meet your childcare needs
  • you have stated on either your registration form or the Declaration of attendance form, that your child will be leaving during the term and you specify the last day that you wish the childcare provider to claim the free hours for you
  • your childcare provider gets an inadequate outcome in their latest Ofsted inspection
  • your current childcare provider has closed or has been suspended by Ofsted.

Please note: You may still need to give your childcare provider the required notice period stated in your contract with them.

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Do I need to pay anything towards this free place?

No, your childcare provider shouldn't charge you for any of this time as it is an offer of free part time childcare and early education rather than a subsidy towards your fees. These hours must be shown as free on your invoice, with a zero monetary value as per clause 1.13 in Surrey's Provider Agreement 2016-17 (see files available to download below).

However, they can set the times that they offer free early education. This means, for example, three hours of free early education could sit within a three and a half hour session. So, because you would essentially be taking time outside of the free hours, a childcare provider could charge for this additional time, even if less than 15 hours a week is being used. They can also set their own rates for any additional time or extra services including snacks and/or lunch and should let you know in advance what you will be expected to pay.

You should receive an invoice from your childcare provider at least once a term clearly showing what you are being asked to pay for. If you think that you are being charged for your child's free place or are being invoiced incorrectly you should speak to your childcare provider in the first instance. If you are still unsure then you could contact us and we can ask the team that administer the free early education funding to check your invoice.

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Will claiming free childcare affect my tax credits or benefits?

Claiming Free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds does not affect benefits, but if you are using the childcare element of Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit you can only claim for any care over and above the 15 hours. If you were using the childcare element before claiming Free childcare and you do not change your hours you may need to contact HMRC so they can adjust their payments to you. They can be contacted on 0345 300 3900.

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We have just moved to England and my child is not a British citizen, will they be entitled to claim free childcare?

Yes, a child moving to England from another country is entitled to the 15 hours of universal free childcare on the same basis as any other child, regardless of whether they have British citizenship or you have been told you have no recourse to public funds.


Files available to download

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