30 hours free childcare for working families

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Apply for free childcare

All three and four-year-old children can receive up to 15 hours free early education per week over 38 weeks of the year (570 hours per year) known as the universal entitlement. This entitlement can also be “stretched” at some childcare providers , which means that fewer hours can be taken over more weeks of the year, commonly offered as 11 hours per week each week of the year. 

Additional hours

Three and four-year-olds of working parents in England may also be entitled to an additional 570 hours per year on top of the universal entitlement, meaning these families will be able to claim up to 1,140 hours of free early education per year. You may have heard this being talked about as “30 hours free childcare”.

  • 15 hours - universal entitlement for all, no application required
  • 15 hours - additional entitlement for working families, application required
  • 30 hours - total entitlement available

Eligible families can receive up to 30 hours free per week for their child over 38 weeks of the year (term time) or approximately 22 hours per week each week of the year. The offer is not 30 hours free each week of the year.

Parents must apply through HMRC for this additional entitlement. You can do this by clicking the “apply now” button at the top of this page to go straight to the application.

Please note: All application queries must be directed to HMRC. Please call 0300 123 4097 to speak to HMRC’s Childcare Service helpline.

Parents can apply 16 weeks before their child turns three. If the parent is returning to work, they can apply 31 days before they start their job.

There are application deadlines in place for the additional hours. We strongly advise parents to apply well in advance of deadlines shown below as some applications can take 14 days to be resolved. If a code is not issued by HMRC before the start of a funding period, the child will have to wait until the following funding period before they can take up 30 hours free entitlement as set out below: 

Childcare start date
If a child turns three between A code must be issued by HMRC before midnight on If the parent wants the child to start 30 hours free childcare from
1 April to 31 August 31 August 1 September
1 September to 31 December 31 December 1 January
1 January to 31 March 31 March 1 April

If the child is already three and accessing their universal entitlement, the same principle applies that 30 hours free childcare cannot begin until the funding period following successful application.

Childcare start date if already accessing universal entitlement
Application made and code issued by HMRC between Earliest start date for 30 hours
1 April to 31 August 1 September
1 September to 31 December 1 January
1 January to 31 March 1 April

Every three months, parents will be asked to confirm that they are still eligible. You can confirm your eligibility again on the gov.uk website.

If the parent is no longer eligible for 30 hours free childcare or they have missed the deadline for reconfirming their eligibility, the government has provided a "grace period"  - a period of time when the child can continue to receive 30 hours free childcare. Once the grace period ends, if the parent remains ineligible, 30 hours free childcare will finish and the child will receive their universal entitlement only. More information about grace periods can be found in the attachment at the bottom of this page "FEEE - A guide for parents".

If a parent applies very early, they may need to confirm that they are still eligible before the child has started their 30 hour place; if a parent receives an ineligible response when they reconfirm before the child has begun accessing their 30 hours free childcare, the grace period does not apply.  

Please note: if you do fall out of eligibility or were not issued a valid code before the deadline, you can still receive the universal entitlement for your child.

Validity start dates

The validity start date shown on the code issued by HMRC is the date the code was issued, not the date the child can start accessing 30 hours free childcare. This means that a number of families who have applied early will have a code for their two-year-old or three-year-old who does not yet meet the age criteria.

You should take your code to your chosen childcare provider as soon as possible to book your 30 hour place. Your childcare provider will then start the process with the council to "validate" your code.

Qualifying criteria

In the same way as the universal entitlement for three and four-year-olds, the child must be the right age to receive 30 hours free childcare even if the code from HMRC shows an earlier date:

Childcare eligibility

Children who turn three between

Become eligible for their free entitlement from

1 September to 31 December

1 January

1 January to 31 March

1 April

1 April to 31 August

1 September

To be eligible for 30 hours free childcare, both parents, or for single parent families, the sole parent must:

  • Each expect to earn the equivalent of 16 hours per week at the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage for your age. From April 2018, this is £118.08 per week for 21 to 24-year-olds and £125.28 per week for over 25-year-olds. If you are an apprentice, you may still qualify.

Where a parent is in a ‘start-up period’ (i.e. they are newly self-employed) they do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months.

Both parents, or for single parent families, the sole parent must also:

  • Live in England
  • Expect to have an income of less than £100,000 each a year.

If one or both parents are unemployed, they must become employed within 31 days of applying.

There are some exceptions, and families will also be eligible if both parents are employed but one parent (or both parents) are: 

  • temporarily away from the workplace on maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave;
  • temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick pay;
  • are temporarily away from England for a period of up to 6 months, such as if the parent/s are in the military (on duty);

Or if: 

One parent is employed or self-employed and one parent gets one or more of the following benefits:

  • Contribution based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit or long-term Incapacity Benefit
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • National Insurance credits because of incapacity or limited capacity for work
  • If the parent has been assessed as having limited capacity for work for Universal Credit purposes.

 Parent/s are not eligible if:

  • They are in receipt of a childcare grant
  • They are a full time student/an intern
  • They are not entitled to receive public funds.

Other financial help to support with childcare costs

We would recommend parents complete the government’s Childcare Calculator tool to find out what financial help could be available to them to support with approved childcare costs. Tax Free Childcare, for example, could impact on a parent/s Tax credit award, therefore it’s important to understand which available schemes could financially benefit your family the most.

For more details about all government schemes, visit the childcare choices website.

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