FREE childcare funding for 3 & 4-year-olds: A complete guide

In our last post, we published a complete guide to free childcare for 2-year-olds in England. Now it’s time to look at the free childcare funding available for 3 and 4-year-old children. With up to 30 hours of free childcare available in this age group, this represents a great opportunity for parents or guardians to continue with their careers and boost household income, particularly following maternity or paternity leave. It’s also wonderful for the children, who will naturally benefit from early years education and be better prepared for school when the time comes at age 5.

So, how does the 30 hours of free childcare funding work, and who is eligible?

How 15-30 hours of free childcare funding works

Guide to how the free funding available for three and four year olds works

This is funding that comes from the Government, via local councils, to pay for childcare at nurseries, pre-schools and similar approved childcare providers. The funding goes direct to the childcare settings or providers, not to the parents or guardians of the children. There are two possible halves — 15 hours of free childcare and an additional 15 hours on top of that, potentially taking the total available up to 30 hours of free childcare for each child.

The first 15 hours of free childcare

The first 15 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds in England is very straight forward. In essence, all 3- and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to the 15 hours of funding for childcare each week. Well, to be more precise, the scheme allows for 15 hours per week spread out over 38 weeks in any one year. That’s a total maximum of 570 hours a year. However, so long as the total hours in any given year does not exceed 570, some childcare settings will allow parents or carers to spread the free childcare out over a different number of weeks, simply by adjusting the number of hours used during each of those weeks appropriately.

Eligibility for 15 hours of childcare funding:

  • All 3- and 4-year-olds living in England are eligible (and there are also similar schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
  • The free childcare funding can only be used in conjunction with approved childcare settings and providers. Treetops Nursery in Willesden is one such approved nursery.
  • The children are eligible from the term* following their 3rd birthday, until they reach compulsory school age or start Reception Year at school.
    * (Terms usually start in early January, April or September).
  • The 15 hours of funding is not means-tested, nor is it related to whether or not the parent or guardian is working or unemployed etc.
  • The Government funding does not include food and consumables (nappies, sun cream etc.), so you will need to check this with your individual childcare provider.

30 hours of free childcare

Up to 1140 hours of free childcare per year are potentially available

30 hours of free childcare funding is also available for eligible families. However, it includes the first 15 hours explained above, plus a possible additional 15 hours per week, when eligible. This takes the total amount of free childcare available to a possible maximum of 1140 hours per year, or 30 hours per week spread out over 38 weeks. As with the first ‘15 hours’ scenario, some childcare providers allow it to be spread out over more of the year, so long as the number of hours per week is reduced accordingly. And, as before, the free childcare funding can only be used with approved childcare providers like Treetops Nursery, Willesden.

Eligibility for 30 hours of childcare funding:

You and your partner, if you have one:

  • must be working¹;
  • must be earning¹ the equivalent of 16 hours per week, on average over the next 3 months, at the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage²;
  • must not be earning £100,000¹ or more of net income in the current tax year, including any bonuses;
  • may usually still claim when on sick leave, annual leave or parental leave.

¹ Has your work or earning level been affected by the coronavirus pandemic? If so, there are some temporary and very welcome exceptions to the rules, which you can find out about here.

² Note that, if you’re self-employed, you can base your 3 month average on what you expect to earn during the current tax year if your earnings over the last 3 months are not sufficient.

You may be still be able to claim for 30 hours funding at the same time as:

  • Eligibility explainedclaiming Universal Credit, tax credits³ or Tax-Free Childcare;
  • receiving childcare vouchers;
  • claiming Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer’s Allowance or contribution-based Employment & Support Allowance — if you are not working but your partner is;
  • starting or re-starting work within 31 days of the application date.

³ Please note that, if you are receiving tax credits, getting 30 hours free childcare funding could affect how much tax credits you receive. Check here.

Reasons you may not be able to claim 30 hours childcare funding

You are unlikely to be eligible if:

  • your child doesn’t live with you;
  • you foster the child in question;
  • you’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and you and your partner, if you have one, do not have access to public funds (according to your UK residence card);
  • someone else already claims Tax-Free Childcare for your child.

How to apply for 30 hours free childcare funding

Firstly, have your National Insurance number and, if you’re self-employed, your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) ready. You’ll be applying via the ‘Government Gateway’ so if you have not accessed this before, you’ll also need to set up access to it for the first time. As part of that you’ll need to have your mobile phone or landline number ready, along with your UK passport and possibly details of any tax credits, your P60 or recent payslip.

If you are separated, only one of you can apply so, ideally, you’ll first need to agree which of you will be applying (if you can’t agree, apply separately and HMRC will decide who ends up with the ‘childcare account’).

If you have a partner living with you, you will need to include them in the application. However, eligibility will not be affected by their income or employment if they are in prison or are absent from the household for more than six months of the year.

Set aside about 20 minutes or so for the application (5 minutes longer if you have not accessed the Government Gateway before) and then you can start the application process here. You usually find out whether your application is successful within a week, sometimes straight away. If successful, you will receive a code that you can give to your childcare provider so that they can access the funding.

Free childcare funding at Treetops Nursery in Willesden, London NW10

30 hours free childcare is available at Treetops Nursery, Willesden

Treetops Nursery accepts both 15 hours and 30 hours of childcare funding for eligible families, spaces permitting. We’re a nursery and pre-school in Willesden in London NW10 so are also convenient for parents and guardians looking for high quality childcare at a nursery or pre-school near Willesden Green, Harlesden, Brent, Kensal Green, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Mapesbury, Dollis Hill, Church End, Roundwood, College Park and Park Royal.

For further details about Treetops Nursery:

FREE Childcare for 2-Year-Olds – A Complete Guide

2 year old playing with bubblesHave you heard about the free childcare funding that’s available for eligible 2-year-olds? Do you want to learn more? If you are a parent who is looking to work, or perhaps to get back into work after starting a family, then this could be a perfect solution for you and your toddler. Under a Government scheme, approved nurseries, pre-schools and childcare providers in England can supply up to 15 hours per week of childcare for eligible 2-year-olds. It’s an absolute no-brainer, so we thought we’d put together this comprehensive guide to tell you everything you need to know.

The benefits of free childcare for 2-year-olds

Free childcare hours will be a great help to families:

  • It will help those on maternity or paternity leave to re-enter the workplace more easily, knowing that their young child is being cared for in a safe and secure environment.
  • For up to 15 hours a week, the childcare will be funded by the Government, free of charge, enabling families to boost household income and quality of life.
  • The 2-year-olds benefit greatly as it allows them to make an early start on their education and development. They can prepare for school for around three years and hit the ground running there when they reach the age of five.

A Department of Education study showed that children who start early education no later than the age of two will have long-term benefits including enhanced abilities, better confidence and improved social skills, to name just a few. Studies also show that even their lifetime outcomes and future employment potential are improved if they started early years education and care by the age of 2. The greatest benefits were seen by those children receiving at least 10 hours per week. So, with 15 free hours a week on offer for free, it’s something that every parent in England should at least consider.

How it works

2 year old girl at nursery

It’s quite straight forward. First, it’s wise to do a rough check to see whether you/your child is likely to be eligible (see the next section below for that). If it looks like you are eligible, you can apply for the funding via a Government website – more about that later. If you are approved, your child can begin free childcare from an approved childcare provider (… such as Treetops Nursery in Willesden). The Government will pay the cost of the childcare, up to 15 hours per week for 2-year-olds, direct to the childcare provider. Your child can begin receiving the childcare in the year in which they reach the age of 2. Which term they start in depends upon the month of their birthday so, in real terms, they usually begin on, or soon after, the 1st of January, 1st of April or 1st of September.

Eligible 2-year-olds can receive up to 570 hours of free childcare over the course of a year. Usually that is taken as 15 hours per week over 38 weeks. However, some childcare providers allow it to be a little more flexible with, perhaps, less hours per week but over more weeks of the year, so long as the total is no more than 570 hours overall.

Eligibility requirements for free childcare funding for 2-year-olds

In order to be eligible for the free childcare funding, either

  1. the parent(s) need to be receiving one or more of the requisite ‘qualifying benefits’ or
  2. the 2-year-old must fall into a qualifying ‘additional needs’ category.

We’ll explain more about each one …

1. The ‘qualifying benefits’

Little boy playing at pre-school

In order to qualify, the parent of the two-year-old must be in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (income-related);
  • Employment & Support Allowance (if income-related);
  • Income Support;
  • Universal Credit related to low income (household income after tax being less than £15,400 per annum excluding benefits);
  • Tax Credits related to low income (household income less than £16,190 per annum before tax);
  • The guaranteed part of Pension Credit (which tops up weekly income if below £173.75 for single people or £265.20 for couples);
  • The ‘run-on’ Working Tax Credit payments paid for four weeks after stopping work;
  • Payments paid to asylum seekers* via Part 6 of the Immigration & Asylum Act.

Amounts shown are correct at time of writing (September 2020) but may be subject to change thereafter.

* Note: Asylum seekers who have an NRPF (‘No Recourse to Public Funds) Visa and non-EAA citizens who are ‘Zambrano Carers’ may still be eligible in some cases.

2. The qualifying ‘additional needs’

Toddler in play area

The two-year-old may still qualify for free childcare funding if:

  • the local authority are charged with looking after them;
  • they receive Disability Living Allowance;
  • they have a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN);
  • they are subject to an Education, Health & Care plan (EHC);
  • they have left care under an Adoption Order;
  • they have left care under a Child Arrangements Order;
  • they have left care under a Special Guardianship Order.

Note: Please check with your childcare setting whether additional items like nappies and meals will cost extra as, strictly speaking, these are not covered by the Government scheme for 2-year-olds.

How to apply for free childcare funding for your 2-year-old

Toddler with play camera at nursery school

Applying for free childcare funding for your 2-year-old is quite straight forward:

  1. Initially, we recommend that you discuss your possible application with your intended childcare provider. See below for contact details and links if this is likely to be Treetops Nursery in Willesden.
  2. Once you’re ready to apply, you can do so on the Government’s Childcare Choices website.

Free Childcare for 2-year-olds at Treetops Nursery, Willesden

Treetops Nursery in Willesden, London NW10, accepts free childcare under the Government scheme for eligible 2-year-olds, subject to available places of course. An added bonus is that those accessing 15 free hours of childcare for their 2-year-old do not need to pay the usual £50 registration fee at Treetops Nursery.

Get Started

If you would like more information about free childcare funding for your child at Treetops Nursery in Willesden, please call 020 8963 1259 or send us a message here. You can also book a visit to our nursery here. We are a high quality nursery and pre-school in Willesden, London NW10, so are also ideal for parents and carers looking for outstanding childcare services near Willesden Green, Harlesden and Kensal Green.