Free early learning for under fives

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

30 hours of free early education for three and four-year-olds

Working families who meet the eligibility criteria may be able to get 30 hours a week of free early education and childcare for their three or four-year-old.

The extra 15 hours will be available from the start of the next term and your eligibility for the extra hours will be checked every three months.

Can my child get 30 hours of free childcare?

Parents will need to meet the following criteria to be eligible for 30 hours of 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 a 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 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 of free childcare

If you meet the criteria and your child will turn 3 by 31 August, you can apply for the Autumn term (September) now at free childcare and education

Foster parents can apply for their fostered three and four-year-old children. Please contact

30 hours deadlines for application are

  • 31 August for Autumn term start (September)
  • 31 December for Spring term start (January)
  • 31 March for Summer term start (April)

Please note, you are required to reconfirm your code every 3 months.

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
  • 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?

Foster carers can now claim the extended entitlement for the children that they're fostering, as their own three and four-year-olds.

This is subject to certain criteria.

Contact us

If you have any questions, want to find out more or apply, call us on 020 7926 9558 or email

Watch the video below for more about 30 hours of free early education for three and four-year-olds.