Free entitlement to childcare is provided by the Government. It allows some 2 year olds access to free, good quality, flexible early education or childcare.
Children can use up to 570 hours each year, or a maximum of 15 hours over 38 weeks, from a pre-school, nursery or an accredited childminder who are registered to offer free places.
The childcare provider must be rated ‘Satisfactory', 'Good' or 'Outstanding' in their most recent Ofsted report to be authorised to offer free childcare.
Your childcare provider shouldn't charge you as the entitlement is for a free place rather than a subsidy towards your fees. However, they can set their own rates for any additional time or services that you take. They should let you know in advance what you will be expected to pay.
2 Is my child eligible for free childcare?
Forty percent of 2 year olds are eligible for free entitlement. To qualify, the child must be of eligible age and the parent(s) in receipt of one or more of the following income-based benefits:
- Income Support
- guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- support under Part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- Universal Credit - if you and your partner have a combined income from work of £15,400 or less a year, after tax (net earnings)
- tax credits and you have an income of £16,190 or less a year, before tax (gross earnings)
- Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit).
Or the child meets one of the following non-income-based criteria:
- they are a Child Looked After (where the County Council acts as the corporate parent)
- is adopted* .
- has a Special Guardianship Order*
- has a special educational need or a disability (SEND). These children are eligible if the child either:
- receives Disability Living Allowance*
- has a current Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN)* or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan*.
From September 2019, eligibility has been extended to the following groups of children*:
- Children of Zambrano Carers (person from a non-EEA state whose residence is required in order to enable a child or dependant adult, who is British, to live in the UK)**
- Children of families with no recourse to public funds with a right to remain in the UK on grounds of private/family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights**
- Children of a subset of failed asylum seekers (supported under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 - ‘the 1999 Act’)
*You will need to provide evidence when you apply.
**Their parents or carers (and their partner if they have one) must meet the low level income requirements, for example, a net income threshold of £15,400.
An eligible child born on or between:
- 1 April and 31 August - can apply online for free childcare for 2 year olds from 1 April. If the application is approved, can then access a free place from the beginning of the September term following their second birthday
- 1 September and 31 December - can apply online for free childcare for 2 year olds from 1 September. If the application is approved, can then access a free place from the beginning of the January term following their second birthday
- 1 January and 31 March - can apply online for free childcare for 2 year olds from 1 January. If the application is approved, can then access a free place from the beginning of the April term following their second birthday.
This continues until the term after their third birthday, at which point they will become eligible for universal Free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds.
3 How to apply
If you are eligible for free entitlement to childcare for your 2 year old, complete the income or non-income online application form based on the criteria for how you qualify.
To apply under the criteria introduced from September 2019 please email firstname.lastname@example.org.Apply online: Income-based criteria (external link) Apply online: Non-income-based criteria
You will be asked to confirm:
- your name
- your address
- the name, gender and date of birth of each child
- the relevant eligibility criteria you are applying under and evidence, where requested.
If you are claiming under one of the benefit eligibility criteria, ensure you include your National Insurance Number or National Asylum Seeker's Service Number. Without this your application cannot be processed.
What happens next
Once we receive your application we will check that your child is eligible to claim the funding, and write to you to confirm this.
In the event that you do not meet the criteria for free entitlement we will write to you advising you to check your eligibility and, if applicable, re-apply in the future. Visit your local Children and Family Centre to access a range of activities and support, including assistance to re-apply for this funding if appropriate.
Important: The processing time for your application may be up to 21 working days. If this period has elapsed, or you have lost your letter from us, email email@example.com for help.
4 How to use and claim free childcare
If you are awarded free entitlement to childcare, you should do the following:
1. Use the searchable database or contact the Family Information Service (FIS) for a list of childcare providers who offer free entitlement funding.
2. Contact a range of childcare providers to see if they have a vacancy for your child. Arrange to visit as many as you wish and choose the one(s) which best meets your and your child's needs. It is important you fully understand the childcare provider's admissions policy, which services are included and what they may charge for, and any dates by which you need to make a claim.
3. Tell your chosen childcare provider(s) that you wish to access free childcare for your child. You will need to give them the unique reference number that is written on your confirmation letter. The setting will use this reference number so that we can arrange for funding to be paid directly to them.
4. You will be asked to complete a simple form, including:
- your address
- your child's date of birth (bring evidence such as a passport or birth certificate)
- how many hours you wish to claim
- your child's pattern of attendance (the days and hours they will be there).
The childcare provider will do the rest. If at any time during this process you need extra assistance the FIS is there to help.
5 Additional information
- Case studies (PDF, 182KB)
- Free entitlement for 2 year olds - FAQs (PDF, 91KB)
- Free entitlement leaflet (PDF, 824KB)
- Free entitlement leaflet - plain text version (PDF, 53KB)
- Discover starting school leaflet (PDF, 538KB)
- Discover starting school leaflet - plain text version (PDF, 60KB)
- Privacy notice for parents (PDF, 157KB)
- HMRC Tax Credits calculator