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Free early learning

Coronavirus update 

From 1 June 2020, Ofsted registered childcare settings can open for all children. Not all settings will be able to open straight away. Please contact your childcare provider to check if they are open.

Check if you can get tax-free childcare and 30 hours free childcare during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find out about various free early learning options.

Free early learning for 2 year olds

You may be entitled to claim a maximum of 11 hours per week throughout the year or a maximum of 15 hours per week during term time (pro-rata).

You may qualify if:

  • you have a child aged two years (funding will be available from the term after their second birthday)
  • your family is living on a low income or claiming income based benefits


To claim for free childcare for your two year old, families must be in receipt of a qualifying benefit listed below. 

CriteriaEvidence required

Income Support;

Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA);

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA.

National Insurance number, date of birth and family name of parent.


Universal Credit - if you and your partner have a combined income from work of £15,400 or less a year, after tax.

National Insurance number, date of birth and family name of parent.

Tax credits and you have an annual income of £16,190 or less a year, before tax.

National Insurance number, date of birth and family name of parent.

The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit.

National Insurance number, date of birth and family name of parent.

Support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act.

NASS number, date of birth and family name of parent who has recourse to public funds.

Special criteria will apply to children known to Social Care or Portage based on the following information.

CriteriaEvidence required
A 2 year old child who is looked after by the local authorityName and contact details of your social worker
A 2 year old child who receives Disability Living AllowanceRecent award letter
A 2 year old child who has left care through special guardianship or residence orderCopy of the court order as evidence

A 2 year old who is supported by Social Care or Portage and Inclusion.

Name and contact details of Social Worker or Portage and Inclusion worker.

If you’re a non-EEA citizen who cannot claim benefits

Your 2 year old may get free childcare if you are getting support under the Immigration and Asylum Act and have either:

  • claimed asylum in the UK and are waiting for a decision (known as ‘part 6’)
  • been refused asylum in the UK (known as ‘section 4’)

A 2-year-old you care for may also get free childcare if your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, and you have either:

Documentation will be required as proof where an application is made against these additional criteria. For more information, please contact fis@lbbd.gov.uk or call 020 8227 5395.

Is your child eligible for free childcare?

Do you have a child who is two, or almost two? You may qualify for free childcare worth hundreds of pounds. Parents have the option to take the 15 hours per week in a more flexible way to suit their individual needs

Find out instantly if you are eligible.

Check if you are eligible for free childcare

If you are unable to find out if you qualify online, call us on 020 8227 5395. You'll need your National Insurance number for us to check your eligibility.


If you meet the criteria and a childcare place is allocated, you will be contacted by the childcare provider inviting you for a visit. You will have an opportunity to ask any questions, arrange the settling in period and agree the sessions your child will be attending. We cannot guarantee a childcare place will be available in your chosen area.

You may prefer to use a childminder who can be more flexible with times and days which a nursery or pre-school cannot. If you would prefer a childminder, state this on the application form and we will aim to match suitable childcare.

Free early learning application form

Help with childcare costs

There are many ways in which the government can help you pay towards your childcare costs, including a calculator to help find the right support option for you.

You can get help paying for childcare if it’s provided by a:

  • registered childminder, play scheme, nursery or club
  • childminder with an Ofsted-registered childminding agency
  • registered school
  • home care worker working for a registered home care agency.

These are known as approved childcare.

Childcare calculator

This calculator will guide you to finding the right support for you.

Childcare calculator

Childcare Choices

The government is introducing new ways to help parents with childcare costs. Whether you have toddlers or teens, you could get support.

Find out about Childcare Choices

How the government childcare offers interact

Sources of help

Help availableLevel of supportRecipient group
Working Tax CreditYou may be able to claim for approved childcare. Up to £122.50 (1 child) or £210 (2 or more children) a week.
More information about Working Tax Credit
You can’t get Tax-Free Childcare at the same time as claiming Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers.
Universal CreditYou may be eligible for free childcare for 2 year olds and free school meals for school aged children.
More information about Universal Credit
You may be able to get Universal Credit if you’re on a low income or out of work.
Tax Free ChildcareFor every £8 a parent pays into their childcare account, the government will pay in an extra £2 up to £2,000 per child per year.
More information about Tax Free Childcare
Working parents can either apply for Tax-Free Childcare or 30 hours free childcare.
Care to LearnYou can get up to £175 per child per week if you live in London.
Apply online
Parents under 20 at school or in further education.
Discretionary Learner SupportYour learning provider (for example, college) decides how much you get. It depends on their scheme and your circumstances. You need to apply directly to your learning provider.Parents over 20 in further education.
Childcare GrantYou can get up to 85% of your childcare costs. 
Apply online
You must be eligible for student finance.

Free early learning for 3 and 4 year olds

Early education supports children to develop strong foundations for their future learning. Children learn through play and planned activities which are fun and motivating for each child. Children are supported by staff who understand how children learn and develop.

All four year olds can receive a free early education place. Three year olds will be eligible for a free early education place depending on their birthday:

  • born 1 April to 31 August: eligible term is autumn (starts September)
  • born 1 September to 31 December: eligible term is spring (starts January)
  • born 1 January to 31 March: eligible term is summer (starts April)

There are a number of different types of settings that can offer the free early education places. Childminders, nurseries and pre-schools must be registered with Ofsted and satisfy the local authority that they can deliver early years foundation stage curriculum.

Search for registered childcare providers

Contact us if you require help finding the right childcare for you and your child.

Up to 30 hours free childcare for working parents

Working parents of 3 and 4 year olds in England may be entitled to up to 30 hours of childcare, for 38 weeks of the year (or fewer hours over more weeks). This is an additional 15 hours of childcare on top of the 15 hours universal entitlement for all 3 and 4 year olds in England.

The 30 hours childcare will be available from the term after your child has turned 3 years of age. However, you must apply the term before. We recommend that you apply in good time, so that you receive your code the term before your child becomes eligible. You can apply up to 16 weeks before your child turns three.

Who can apply:

  • a parent must be the parent who has parental responsibility for a child or cares for a child

  • both parents are working (or the sole parent is a lone parent family)

  • foster carers may claim for their fostered children (see help sheet below)

  • if a parent has remarried or is living with a partner, the step parent or partner must also be working for less than £100,000 per year
  • working includes those parents that are self-employed or on zero contracted hours, who also meet the above criteria
  • families that are employed, where one parent does not work (or neither parents work temporarily) due to parental leave or maternity leave and meet the criteria, are eligible
  • families where both parents work where one or both parents are away from work temporarily on adoption leave and meet the criteria, are eligible
  • families where both parents work, where one or both parents are away from work temporarily on sick leave and meet the criteria, are eligible
  • families where one parent work, and one parent is disabled or not able to work due to their disability, and receive specific benefits and meets the criteria, are eligible
  • families where one parent is working and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring, and meet the criteria, are eligible
  • the person applying for funding (could be a partner) must be a resident in the UK and have recourse to public funds

You can only take up 30 hours at an approved provider, this means they need to be a school, pre-school, day nursery or with a childminder who are registered by Ofsted. Speak to your provider about whether they offer 30 hours and any additional charges that may apply or contact Family Information Service for further information about accessing the right childcare for you.

Points to note:

  • you can take up your 30 hours between 6am-8pm, but no session can be more than 10 hours. 
  • you don’t have to use all 30 hours, just those that meet your needs. 
  • providers have a choice whether to offer the hours, some may not offer the full 30 hours. 
  • you can split your hours between providers but splitting is limited to a maximum of two sites per day. Remember to get your 30 hours code checked by all the providers you use.
  • like at school, your provider might charge for additional services, for example; lunch, trips or music classes but these charges cannot be a condition of accessing your 30 hours place. 
  • 30 hours is available for 38 weeks of the year (just like the existing 15 hours scheme). Some providers will allow you to ‘stretch’ your 30 hours entitlement over 52 weeks of the year meaning fewer hours per week (e.g. you could take 22 hours a week for 52 weeks). 

Top things parents need to know (PDF, 361 KB)

Foster Parents:

  • you may be eligible for your children in foster care if it is consistent with the child’s care plan and you and your partner (if any) are working outside your fostering role. You should start by discussing this with your social worker

Top things foster carers need to know (PDF, 180 KB)


Step by step guide

Register with Childcare Choices to apply

After your application:

  • if you’re eligible, you will be given an 11 digit eligibility code which you must take to your chosen childcare provider
  • you can only claim at the start of each new term
  • you must reconfirm your eligibility every three months after applying – HMRC should email you four weeks before the deadline to log on to your childcare service account to do this.

Search for registered childcare providers

If you are no longer eligible

If your circumstances change and you fall out of eligibility you will no longer be eligible to claim the additional 15 hours of childcare. There will be a grace period until the start of the next term giving you the opportunity to start work again.  If your circumstances change during the grace period you can reapply and continue to receive the extra funded hours. You will continue to receive the universal 15 hours of free early education for 3 and 4 year olds.

Contact us if you require help finding the right childcare for you and your child.

The benefits of childminding

Childminders at work.

Contact us

Family Information Service

020 8227 5395