Free early learning for children under 5

Use this guide to find information about free early learning for children under 5.

Free early learning for 2 year olds

Get free childcare if you’re working

If your child is 2 years old, you may get 15 hours free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year (during school term time), or get free childcare for 52 weeks if you use less than your entitlement per week. Check with your childcare provider to find out if this is something they offer.

You can use the government’s service to apply for a code to get free childcare from when your child is 1 year and 36 weeks old.

For more information and to apply, you’ll need to set up a childcare account at:

Apply for free childcare if you're working

It usually takes 20 minutes to apply. You may find out if you’re eligible straight away, but it can take up to 7 days.

Once your application has been approved, you’ll get a code for free childcare to give to your childcare provider.

Get free childcare if you receive government benefits

If your child is 2 years old, you can get 15 hours of free early education and childcare a week if you receive one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
  • the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit (or both), and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
  • 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

Additional eligibility criteria

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.

Non-EEA citizens who cannot claim benefits

If you’re a non UK citizen who cannot claim benefits and if your immigration status says you have ‘no recourse to public funds’, you may still get free childcare for your 2 year old.

You must live in England and your household income must be no more than:

  • £26,500 for families outside of London with one child
  • £34,500 for families within London with one child
  • £30,600 for families outside of London with two or more children
  • £38,600 for families within London with two or more children

You cannot have more than £16,000 in savings or investments. If this applies to you, please use the Application for free early learning for 2 year olds - parent online form.

Information for professionals

If you are a professional making an application on behalf of a parent or carer, please complete the Application for free early learning for two year olds - professionals form.

Please ensure that you have full consent to act on their behalf and they're aware of your actions. Professionals are required to include their details in the application form.

When can my child have a place?

A child born betweenCan have a place from
1 January to 31 MarchThe beginning of term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 AugustThe beginning of term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 DecemberThe 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, contact Family Information Service by email or on 020 7926 9558

Watch the video below for more about free early learning for 2 year olds in Lambeth.