How to apply for free childcare

Childcare can often take up a large part of the family budget.  The government runs a number of schemes that can help with the cost of childcare. 

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Tax free childcare

You are eligible for tax free childcare if you are a working family or self-employed in the UK with children aged 0-11 (or 0-16 if disabled).  You must be earning under £100k but at least £139 per week (equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage) each.  You must not be receiving Tax Credits, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers. You can check if you are eligible on the childcare choices website.

15 hours free childcare for two-year-olds

The government is offering free childcare/early education to some two-year-old children. This free entitlement applies to about 40% of two-year-olds.  It is for families in England, receiving certain forms of support with two-year-old children.  You can check the eligibility criteria on the childcare choices website.  You will then need to return to this page to register for an account if you don't already have one and to submit an online application.

If eligible, the funding will commence from the term after a child's 2nd birthday, either 1st January, 1st April or 1st September.

15 hours free childcare for all three and four-year-olds

The government provides funding for all three and four-year-old children to attend an Ofsted registered early years provider (for example, pre-schools, nurseries and childminders).  This is known as the Free Entitlement (formally the Nursery Education Grant).  It is for all families in England with three and four-year-old children.  You can check if you are eligible on the childcare choices website.  You can apply through your early years provider by asking for a copy of their parental Agreement (Form EY4P), this needs to be completed and returned to your early years provider with a copy of your child's birth certificate (passport or letter from Social Services confirming this is also accepted).  Funding is paid direct to your early years provider, you can also use more than one early years provider.

The funding will commence from the term after a child's 3rd birthday, either 1st January, 1st April or 1st September.

30 hours free childcare for three and four-year-olds

The government provides 30 hours of free childcare or early education for 38 weeks.  This is for working families in England with three and four-year-old children.  If eligible, the funding will commence from the term after a child's 3rd birthday, either 1st January, 1st April or 1st September.

A guide setting out the eligibility requirements is now available.

To apply, visit the 30 hours gov.uk website

Universal Credit for childcare

Childcare is available for working families claiming Universal Credit, in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales with children under 17. You can check if you are eligible on the childcare choices website.

Support while you study

You may be entitled to:

  • weekly payments from Care to Learn if you’re at school or sixth-form college
  • help through your college if you’re in further education
  • a weekly grant if you’re in full-time higher education

You can check if you are eligible on the childcare choices website.

Childcare providers

The national criteria for free childcare for two year olds:

  • the provider must be registered by Ofsted to accept two year olds.
  • the childcare provider can be a childminder, day nursery or pre-school/playgroup

We recommend that the provider has an Ofsted rating of ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ (requires improvement or inadequate will remain on the list if we feel they have capacity to improve and therefore can be used).  For the latest position in South Gloucestershire please view our childcare providers directory to find those who offer free early education. 

Further information

If you claim free school meals your child may be offered a place on free food and activity holiday clubs. Visit our article on supporting families in school holidays for more information.  

Children and young people information service can provide further information on the above contact 01454 868008 or email: cis@southglos.gov.uk

You can check what help you could get with childcare costs by using the childcare vouchers - better off calculator provided by Gov.uk.