All 3 to 4 year olds in England can get 15 hours of free early education childcare a week. Some 2 year olds are also eligible. There is also an additional 15 hours a week for eligible working parents.

Sections in this guide (click title to view)

1. Free early learning for 2 year olds

Your 2 year old can get 15 hours of free early education and childcare a week if you get one of the following:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit
  • tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit).

Apply for free early learning for 2 year olds

A child can also get free early education and childcare if any of the following apply:

  • they’re looked after or in care
  • they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • they’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order
  • they get a Disability Living Allowance.

If any of the first three situations apply to you and your child, you won't need to apply as we will be able to confirm your eligibility and will send you a letter to confirm this.

Parents or carers of children receiving a Disability Living Allowance will need to visit their local children's centre, health care professional or speak to Contact a Family, or Early Years Alliance. Any of these professionals will be able to verify to us that you qualify for a free early learning place. We will then send you a letter confirming your eligibility.

If you haven't received a letter from us, email us at TwoYearOldFreeEntitlement@lambeth.gov.uk.

When can my child have a place?

A child born between Can have a place from
1 January to 31 March The beginning of term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 August The beginning of term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 December The beginning of term on or after 1 January

How do I choose a childcare provider?

The free place can be offered by any nursery or childminder judged outstanding or good by Ofsted or those who are newly registered and have not been Ofsted inspected as yet.

There are no other costs but you will need to provide wipes, nappies and a change of clothes and you can provide your child with a packed lunch if you do not wish to purchase a meal from your childcare provider.

You may find it helpful to visit some providers, to help you decide where is best for your child. Recommendations from other parents can be helpful, but remember that each child is different, and what suits someone else's child may not be right for yours.

Visit the Family and Childcare Trust website for their handy page on five steps to choosing childcare.

All registered childcare providers are inspected every few years by Ofsted, who assess how well they are doing. You can see all the reports on the Ofsted website or you can ask the provider to show you their most recent report.

We cannot guarantee that your chosen provider will have spaces available, or can provide the hours that you need, but you should find something to suit you within your local area.

If you need any support to identify the most suitable place for your child, please contact your local children's centre or or call the Family Information Service on 020 7926 9558.

2. Free early learning for 3 and 4 year olds

All 3 to 4-year-olds can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, equivalent to the school term time.

The free hours can be claimed from the term following your child's third birthday until they are of school age.

This means:

A child born between Can have a place from
1 January to 31 March The beginning of term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 August The beginning of term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 December The beginning of term on or after 1 January

You can use this funding at most Ofsted registered private day nurseries, pre-schools, children's centres or with some childminders - please check to make sure they accept the funding before you enrol.

Some children may also be eligible for the early years premimum. This is funding childcare providers can claim to improve your child's learning.

How can I use use the free hours?

If your child attends more than the free hours per week, you will be expected to pay the difference to the provider.

You are entitled to just take up the free hours at the provider of your choice if the provider has vacancies and can accommodate your child.

The provider must notify you when you register, if your requirements exceed the funding limit.

There will be a minimum and maximum number of free hours that a provider can offer on one day but this may vary between different providers.

Depending on your provider you may be able to stretch the hours over the year.

You should discuss with the provider how you want to take the hours to best meet your needs.

Can I use more than one childcare provider?

Your child can attend more than one provider and, as long as they both do not exceed the maximum number of free hours per term they will be funded. You will need to ensure that both providers are aware that your child is also attending elsewhere.

How do I register my child?

When your child is eligible, you should obtain a list of early year’s providers from the Families Information Service and apply directly to them for a place.

Once you have decided on your provider and agreed the hours and days your child will attend, the provider will ask you to complete and return to them the parent declaration form.

How is the funding paid?

We will pay your provider directly for the number of hours your child attends each term. The money is paid through a grant called the dedicated schools grant.

What if the group asks for extra money?

Some groups charge additional fees for extra services but they must make it clear to you what these are; you cannot be charged for the free hours.

What help can I get if I can’t afford to pay for the extra attendance?

All parents can claim Child Tax Credit and if you work more than 16 hours per week, you may be eligible to claim Working Tax Credit and the Childcare Element.

Use the childcare calculator to check what help you can get with childcare costs.

What happens when my child starts in reception class?

When your child starts in reception their free early learning will happen in the school and they are no longer entitled to funding at another provider.

Can I use a provider in another borough?

Your child can attend providers in another borough but it will be funded by the council where the setting is registered.

3. 30 hours free early education for 3 and 4 year olds

Some parents have been unable to access tax free childcare through their childcare accounts because of technical reasons. If this has affected you, you may be able to claim compensation and get the government top-up as a one-off payment. There is also the possibility of the government refunding costs caused by the service not working as it should. [HMRC has put together some guidance on how parents should claiming compensation.

From September 2017 you may be able to get 30 hours a week of free early education and childcare for your 3 or 4 year old.

The extra 15 hours will be available to working families who meet the eligibility criteria and this will be checked every three months.

Can my child get 30 hours free childcare?

Parents will need to meet the following criteria to be eligible for 30 hours free childcare. If you don't meet the criteria you will still be entitled to 15 hours of free childcare and you can use the childcare calculator to check what help you can get with childcare costs.

  • Parents earn or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months. This equates to £115 a week (or £6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £111.20 a week (or £5,700 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old. This applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on zero hours contract.
  • If out of work, the parents should be seeking the free childcare to enable them to work.
  • If one or both parents are on maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or if they are on statutory sick leave.
  • Where one parent meets the income criteria and the other is unable to work because they are disabled, have caring responsibilities or have been assessed as having limited capability to work.
  • Where a parent is in a ‘start-up period’ (for example they are newly self-employed) they do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months.
  • If a non-EEA national, the parent must have recourse to public funds.

Parents will not meet the criteria when either one:

  • has an income of more than £100,000
  • is a non-EEA national and subject to immigration control (and has no recourse to public funds).

If you meet the criteria and your child will be 3 on 31 August 2017 you can apply now. If you encounter any problems with the application process or accessing the childcare account, you should direct your queries to the childcare service Customer Interaction Centre on 0300 123 4097.

Apply for 30 hours free childcare

What happens if I'm no longer eligible?

If you no longer meet the eligibility criteria your child will not immediately lose their extra hours 15 hours. There will be a grace period which will allow you to be able to look for and get employment again. If your circumstances change and you regain employment and you fulfil the eligibility criteria, you can re-apply for the 30 free hours of childcare.

If the grace period ends and you haven't been able to find employment, your child will still be entitled to 15 hours of free childcare a week.

How will the provider check who's eligible?

The provider will ask you for your eligibility code which you will receive if your application is successful. The code will be entered into our system to check its validity. A check will occur every three months.

What if I don't want to use all the extra hours?

You can use as many hours as you want, you don't have to use all of the additional 15 hours.

What if my child attends more than one provider?

You will be able to split their free hours across more than one provider.

How flexible are the 30 hours?

The 30 free hours can be used in the same way as the 15 free hours and can be used flexibly over the year. It can be delivered over 38 weeks of the year, over more than 38 weeks of the year; outside of school terms; or at weekends. It is up to the provider to choose what type of delivery they want to offer.

I am a foster carer, can I claim the extra 15 additional hours?

A foster carer can only claim the extended entitlement for their own 3 and 4 year olds. You can't claim for the children you're fostering.

Contact us

If you have any questions call us on 020 7926 9558 or email earlyyearspupilpremium@lambeth.gov.uk.