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Free early learning for 3 and 4 year olds

15 hours free early learning

All 3 and 4 year olds are eligible for 15 hours free early learning in the school term after their third birthday.

If their birthday is:

  • before 1 September, they can start in the autumn term
  • before 1 January, they can start in the spring term
  • before 1 April, they can start in the summer term

Places are usually available for 15 hours a week, for up to 38 weeks a year (570 hours per year). This could be in nurseries, including in children’s centres, and with childminders who are signed up to the scheme. Parents do not need to apply for 15 hours a week free early learning, the funding will be arranged on their behalf by their child’s provider. Parents should remind their providers that their child has turned 3, to ensure that the provider applies for funding. Children aged 3 and 4, continue to be funded for free early learning during term time, until they start in Reception.

30 hours free childcare

Eligible working parents can get an additional 15 hours of free childcare per week for their 3 and 4 year olds. These families can access up to 30 hours of free childcare a week, for 38 weeks per year (up to 1140 hours per year).

If you are eligible for 30 hours free childcare you can access this offer in the school term after your child’s third birthday.

If you are not eligible for 30 hours free childcare, you may be able to pay for additional hours at a range of childcare and free early education providers, including school nurseries. Please speak to providers about their charges for additional hours.

Who is eligible

The eligibility criteria for 30 hours free childcare is outlined on the GOV.UK Paying for childcare website.

If you have questions about your eligibility, please contact the HMRC Childcare Service Customer Centre Interaction Centre on: 0300 123 4097.

How to apply

Apply for 30 hours free childcare

You can also check your eligibility by phone on 0300 123 4097

It is your responsibility to reconfirm your 30 hours code every three months. You should receive reminders from HMRC every three months to reconfirm your eligibility, but it is important to keep your own reminder to do this every three months.

Childcare Choices is a government website with information about all the schemes available to help with childcare costs, including 30 hours and a scheme called Tax-Free Childcare. 

Find out more about the providers that offer free early learning and childcare on the Islington Directory, or contact the Family Information Service on 020 7527 5959

To find a place for your child, contact each provider and fill in their application form. The free hours will be arranged on your behalf by the provider.

Many places are oversubscribed, so you may not get your first choice. Free early education and childcare is usually available term time only, but childminders can offer the hours more flexibly across holiday periods.


If parents are not satisfied that their child has received their free entitlement in the correct way, they should ask their provider for their complaints procedure. Further information about the complaints process is outlined in the complaints section of the Early Years Free of Charge complaints procedure.

Read more about 30 hours free childcare

Application process

  • Parent checks their eligibility and if successful, they will receive an eligibility code. There will be an eligibility code per parent/child combination. Each individual child will have their own code, e.g. if a parent has twins, they will receive two codes, one for each child.
  • Parent takes their eligibility code to a childcare provider of their choice. The provider will inform the parent whether they provide places for the 30 hours. If the provider does provide 30 hours places, the provider will validate the eligibility code. Once the code is validated providers can offer a 30 hours place.
  • Providers may ask parents for their National Insurance number and the child’s date of birth to verify the code.
  • HMRC will remind parents to reconfirm their eligibility every 3 months and to declare any changes to their circumstances. 
  • Parents can access their childcare account at any time after they have applied.

How do I reconfirm my eligibility at the end of the three month period and what happens if my circumstances have changed?

HMRC will send out reminders to parents about the need to reconfirm their eligibility before the end of the three month validity period and how to do this. Parents will be able to reconfirm their circumstances and declare any changes after receiving the reminder from HMRC. The eligibility code for a parent / child combination will not change over time even if its validity ends and a new application is submitted. 

If a parents circumstances change and they are no longer eligible for the 30 hours of free childcare, a grace period will apply so that children can continue with their free place for a short period of time. If a parent’s circumstances change again whilst they are in the grace period, they may reapply and become eligible again.

If you pass the end date of the grace period and you have not regained eligibility your child will stop receiving 30 hours and go back to the universal 15 hour offer. If you regain eligibility after this, you will need to reconfirm your eligibility. If you are successful your child can receive 30 hours from the start of the following term.

Losing your eligibility

What if I or my partner loses our job – does my child stop receiving the additional hours?

If you or your partner lose a job and no longer meet the eligibility criteria, you will enter a grace period. During this time your child will continue to receive 30 hours. Once the grace period has ended, your child will go back to receiving the universal 15 hours free childcare. However, if you find a new job during the grace period and meet the eligibility criteria again, you can continue to receive the 30 hours provided you confirm your eligibility again using the eligibility checker.

How long is the grace period?

The length of the grace period depends on when in the year you lose eligibility. This is because local authorities have to conduct audit checks at specific points in the year.

Date parent receives ineligible decision on reconfirmation Local Authority audit date Grace period end date
 1 January - 10 February 11 February 31 March
 11 February - 31 March 1 April 31 August
1 April - 26 May 27 May 31 August
27 May - 31 August 1 September 31 December
1 September - 21 October 22 October 31 December
22 October - 31 December 1 January 31 March

How can I use the additional hours?

Do I have to take up all of the additional 15 hours?

No, you can take as many additional hours up to the extra 15 as you like. Discuss what suits your family with your chosen childcare provider to see if they are able to accommodate your request.

When can I use the additional hours?

The hours can be taken over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year.

Parents can ‘stretch’ their free childcare over the full year if this is what is required and providers can accommodate this.

The funded hours could be used from 6am to 8pm.

There is no minimum session length; however, the maximum session length is 10 hours.

Providers and parents are best placed to agree the appropriate amount of time a child can spend in a provision.

Children can access a maximum of 2 sites on any one day.

Schools, private day nurseries, pre-schools, childminders and wraparound link clubs are able to deliver the extended entitlement.

Can I use the funded hours to pay for a nanny?

No, both the universal and the extended entitlement have to be taken at a childcare provider who is registered to deliver the early education entitlement and nannies are not registered to do so.

My relative is a childminder – can they claim for the additional hours?

No. Early years provision by a childminder for a related child does not count as childcare in legal terms. Government funding cannot be claimed by, or spent on, childminders providing childcare for their own child or a related child, even if they are claiming for other children. 

However, a local authority can choose to fund the parent providing childcare for their child but this would have to be from other local authority funds. 

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