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Free early learning for under fives

All three and four-year olds, and some two year olds, are entitled to a universal early education place, which provides up to 570 hours of free nursery education per year.  

Three and four year old children in some families are now also entitled to an additional 15 hours of free childcare, otherwise known as the 30 Hours Childcare or Extended Entitlement.

City of London Childcare Accessibility Scheme

If you are a City of London resident, you might qualify for financial support with childcare cost under the Childcare Accessibility Scheme. 

The Scheme aims to support resident families to access early education and childcare. The purpose of the early education place is to support the child’s early development and empower parents to make positive changes to their lives through work, training or family support.

To see if you qualify, see the criteria in the leaflet attached in the downloads section.

15 hours free early learning for 2-year-olds

Is your family living on a low income or claiming income based benefits? Does your two year old have additional needs, or have they left care? You may be entitled to claim free childcare up to a maximum of 15 hours during term time, or 11 hours per week throughout the year.

Every eligible child will be given the opportunity to experience high quality early years’ education that will help them to become school ready.

When a child reaches age two, they may be eligible for 15 hours of funded early education for 38 weeks of the year (term time), if parents already receive some level of government support. Families with a two-year-old who meet the following criteria are eligible for the free places:

If families claim any one of the following:

  • income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit - if they and their partner have a combined income from work of £15,400 or less a year, after tax
  • tax credits and they have an income of £16,190 or less a year, before tax
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • the Working Tax Credit four-week run on (the payment given when someone stops qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

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

  • they’re looked after by a local council
  • they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order.
  • If you’re a non-EEA citizen who cannot claim benefits

Your two-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 two-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:

When will my child be eligible?

This entitlement is available in the term after an eligible child’s second birthday.  You should be able to keep your child at your preferred provider until they can access a school place, normally in the September after their third birthday.  Your entitlement will continue to be free regardless of whether your family’s financial circumstances change.

Child’s second birthday falls between:

 

They will be entitled to their free place from:

Parents can contact their borough to apply for a places from:

1 April and 31 August

The start of the Autumn term in September

April

 

1 September and 31 December

The start of the Spring term in January

September 

1 January and 31 March

The start of the Summer term in April

January

How do I check if I am eligible?

You can access our eligibility checker here.

15 hours universal free education and childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds

All three and four-year-old children are entitled to a free universal early education place.  Each place provides 15 hours of early years education for up to 38 weeks per year.  However, this universal entitlement is flexible and can be accessed over a minimum of three days per week (this can be stretched to two days with providers who operate for 45 weeks or more per year), but this will be dependent on whether a provider can accommodate this.

Providers are funded on a termly basis and eligible children need to be accessing their place by headcount data each term in order for the funding to be accessed.  Please contact your providers to clarify this data but if your child is attending from the beginning of each term they are likely to be there on this termly date.

Parents will be expected to pay for any additional services or additional hours of early education/childcare over and above the universal entitlement.

When can my child access the 15hrs?

The table below shows when a child becomes eligible:

A child born between

…is eligible from

1 April and 31 August

The start of the autumn term (September to December)

1 September and 31 December

The start of the spring term (January to March)

1 January and 31 March

The start of the summer term (April to August)

30 hours free early education and childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds (extended entitlement)

Children in some families will now be entitled to an additional 15 hours of free childcare, otherwise known as the 30 Hours Childcare or Extended Entitlement. This is to support parents who are working, who wish to work or intend to increase their working hours to improve their family's economic well-being.

You may be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare if your circumstances are as follows:

  • Both parents are earning or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months
  • This equates to £120 a week (around £6,240 per year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 (around £5,800 per 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
  • The parent (and their partner where applicable) should be seeking the free childcare to enable them to work
  • Where 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’ (i.e. 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.

Who will not qualify?

A parent will not meet the criteria when:

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

What happens if a parent loses eligibility?

  • They will receive a “grace period” – this means they will be able to keep their childcare for a short period.

Once the “grace period” has lapsed, the child will be entitled to the universal 15 hour entitlement.

How do I apply?

Parents must apply directly to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) not the Local Authority or the Childcare Provider.

Parents can now apply for places either through an online application system via:

  • The Childcare Choices website and click on section 4: ‘Apply or sign in to the childcare service as a parent’.
  • Or by phone at the Customer Interaction Centre (which should also be used if you have any queries): Tel: 0300 123 4097

In order to apply you will need the following to hand for you and (if relevant) your partner:

  • your National Insurance number
  • if you're self-employed, your Unique Taxpayer Reference

You are sent a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) when you first register for Self-Assessment. Your UTR is on notices to file a tax return or payment reminders sent to you by HM Revenue and Customs. Look for a 10-digit number, sometimes with a letter 'K' on the end. It's sometimes just called 'tax reference'. 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.

  • the date you started, or are due to start work
  • details of any other government support you get

The application process for the 30 hours extended free entitlement and Tax Free Childcare will be aligned so a parent need only apply once to HMRC for both schemes.

If you are on a zero hour contract, providing you work on average two weeks out of every three and when you are working you earn the equivalent of at least 25 hours at the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage (depending on your age), your child will be eligible for the 30 hours free childcare.

If eligible, HMRC will set up a secure account for parents and the parent will receive an eligibility code to their secure account.

Have you already set up an account and are trouble accessing it?  If so, please download the 'Accessing Your Childcare Account' guidance.

There will be an eligibility code per parent / child combination, therefore multiple birth siblings will each have their own code.

Parents need to take their code to an approved childcare provider or school nursery of their choice to show they are eligible for the additional 15 hours free childcare.  Your early years provider will also need to see a copy of your child’s birth certificate (if not already provided) and will ask you to sign a declaration form

Your childcare provider will then validate your code and allocate your child a place.

When do I need to apply?

Parents need to obtain a valid code the term before their child starts at nursery/playgroup.

If your child turns 3 between 

They can get 30 hours from

You need to apply between

1 September and 31 December

1 January

15 October and 30 November

1 January and 31 March

1 April

15 January and 28 February

1 April and 31 August

1 September

15 June and 31 July

You can apply outside of these recommended dates but you might not receive your code in time. You must have a valid code by the end of the month before a new term starts.

You have to reconfirm your eligibility every three months. If you apply more than three months before the term starts, you’ll have to reconfirm your eligibility in your account in order to keep your code valid.

How do I reconfirm my code?

HMRC will manage the application process and send out reminders to parents about the need to reconfirm their eligibility.  Parents should receive two reminders to reconfirm (four weeks and two weeks before their reconfirmation deadline).  If a parent’s details have not changed, they only need to tick a box in their childcare service account to confirm their details remain the same. However this system is not perfect and parents should set themselves a reminder to reconfirm their code in time.

If a parent misses the reconfirmation deadline, they will receive a message telling them that they are no longer eligible for 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare.

If a parent’s circumstances change and they are no longer eligible for the additional 15 hours of free childcare, a ‘grace period’ will apply so that children can continue with their free place for a short period of time, whilst alternate arrangements can be made.

If a parent’s circumstances change again whilst they are in the grace period, they may reapply to HMRC and become eligible again.

If you are no longer eligible, you can still access the 15-hour universal early education entitlement for 3 and 4-year-olds.

Do I have to use all the 30 hours each week?

No, you can use anything from 15-30 hours - it is up to you. However, not all childcare providers may be able to offer the exact amount of free hours that you require.

The following criteria apply:

  • No sessions to be longer than 10 hour (no minimum session length)
  • Hours - not before 6.00am or after 8.00pm
  • A maximum of two sites in a single day so if your childcare provider cannot offer the exact amount of free hours that you require, you could split your 30 free hours across more than one childcare provider (e.g. your child can attend a nursery in the morning and an Ofsted registered childminder or nanny in the afternoon)

Are there additional costs?

Government funding is intended to deliver 15 or 30 hours a week of free, high quality, flexible childcare. It is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables, additional childcare hours or any additional services offered by the childcare settings.

Childcare settings may therefore charge for meals and snacks as part of the free entitlement place and they may also charge for consumables such as nappies and sun cream and for services such as trips.

Who do I contact if I have questions?

If you would like further information or if you have any issues accessing your child’s Free Early Education Entitlement (FEEE) for example because you believe the provider is:

  • charging you inappropriately
  • charging extra, where the child has SEND
  • rationing places for any reason;

and you have not had a satisfactory reply from the provider, then contact the City of London Family Information Service on  020 7332 1002 or email EEYService@cityoflondon.gov.uk

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