‘Free childcare’ guide for parents

Discover everything you need to know about ‘free childcare’ as a parent in England here.

If you have a two, three or four-year-old, currently you are entitled to ‘free childcare’ or funded childcare.

In England, you’re entitled to 30 hours per week in term time or 1140 hours per year as a working parent of a three and four-year-old; if you have a two-year-old you are entitled to 15 hours per week until September 2025 after which time you are entitled to 30 hours per week.


How do I apply for 30 hours ‘free’ childcare? 

As a parent you need to visit the Government website and sign in to get a code to give to your childcare provider. 

Existing parents should reconfirm their eligibility for 30 hours every three months. 

What is the deadline for 30 hours childcare?

You need to apply the term before you want to take up a place. 

What if I have a query?

The Government Childcare Service Helpline is 0300 123 4097. 

It is open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm on Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sundays and bank holidays. You can also access the Childcare Choices website here for more support. 

What if I haven’t received my code yet? 

When you apply for 30 hours ‘free’ childcare, you may not get your code straight away.

You should check with your nursery or your local authority to see if places are still available. 

When do I need to register by? 

If you are a parent applying for a place to start in January, you should register by the end of November to ensure you receive your code in time.

If eligible, your child can take up 15 or 30 hours the term following their second or third birthday and the term following receipt of their 30 Hours code, whichever is later.  

From May 2024, working parents of children who turn nine months old by 31 August can apply for a place for them to start in September.

The autumn term begins in September, spring term in January and summer term in April. Applications can sometimes be delayed so HMRC recommends submitting applications early in order to ensure applications are completed in time. 

Will my child be entitled to 30 hours funded childcare whilst I am on maternity leave? 

You can claim childcare for any older qualifying children whilst you are on maternity leave.  

My child is changing nursery; will we need a new eligibility code? 

The code is confirmation that your child qualifies for funded childcare and remains valid for the full declaration period regardless of circumstance but you have to re-confirm your details every three months. 

You do not need to apply for a new code for a new setting. Your local authority can advise how you should approach moving your free childcare to a new setting. 

I am starting a new job soon, can I apply for 30 hours funded childcare when I start? 

Yes, you will need to be working at least 16 hours per week to apply but as long as your child is three this term you will be fine.  

My child turns three soon and will qualify for 15 hours free childcare. My partner is currently in employment but I am not. I am claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as I cannot work due to ill health. Will my child still qualify for 30 hours funding? 

Receiving a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) alone does not make a parent eligible for 30 hours of free childcare, as many PIP users can and do work. 

Families where one parent cannot work may still be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare, if they receive Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). 

However, one parent must work and earn the equivalent of 16 hours at National Living Wage each week in order to qualify. 

Information regarding payments:

Parents can pay into their account using either debit card or Faster Payments (where offered by their bank). If the parent makes a deposit (before 6.30pm for Faster Payments and before 8pm for debit cards) then the funds will be available as cleared funds the next day. 
When the parent authorises the payment from their childcare account, it will arrive in the provider’s account 3 working days later, which is the standard BACS clearance time. 
Credit cards can’t be used to make payments into childcare accounts.

Downloads: Guides to ‘free childcare’

If you are a parent already claiming Tax-Free Childcare, here is what you need to know about ‘free childcare’:

If you are a parent not already claiming Tax-Free Childcare, here is what you need to know about ‘free childcare’:

Additional support