When can I get 15 or 30 hours of free childcare for children under 3?
06 February 2024
From April 2024, the government is expanding existing childcare support. This extra help is being rolled out in phases. By September 2025 most working families with children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare. Here’s what you need to know.
Who can claim the new free hours of childcare?
The new free early education and childcare schemes are available for working parents and carers. For couples, both parents must be working, or if you’re a sole parent you need to be working to claim the free hours.
Eligibility is typically based on:
the age of your child
your working status or income.
What does the government mean by ‘working parents’?
To qualify for the extra support, you need to work and earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage over the next three months. For couples, both parents will need to meet the earnings threshold.
You can see the rates and work out if you qualify on GOV.UKOpens in a new window And you don’t need to work a certain number of hours per week – it’s simply about how much you earn. For example, the National Living Wage for everyone age 23 and over is £10.42 an hour. At the moment, you’ll need to earn at least £166.72 a week (£10.42 x 16) to qualify.
However, the National Living Wage is due to go up from April 2024, to £11.44 an hour for everyone aged 21 and over. You’ll then need to earn at least £182.40 a week (£11.44 x 16) to qualify. Each parent needs to earn less than £100,000 a year. If one parent earns more than £100,000 a year, then you aren’t eligible for free childcare hours. You can find out if you qualify on GOV.UKOpens in a new window
When can I claim free childcare for children under 2 years, and under 9 months?
The changes are being introduced in stages:
From April 2024, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours childcare support per week during term time, which is 38 weeks a year.
From September 2024, 15 hours childcare support will be extended to eligible working parents of children from the age of nine months to three-year-olds during term time.
From September 2025, eligible working parents of pre-school children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare a week during term time.
You may be able use your hours for up to 52 weeks if you use fewer than your total hours per week. Check with your childcare provider to find out if this is something they offer.
How do I claim the extra support?
Applications are now open for eligible working parents of two-year-olds to receive 15 hours free childcare, starting from April 2024.
All applications for the first phase end on 31 March.
So if your child is already two years old or will have had their 2nd birthday on or before 31 March 2024 and you’ve not already applied, you must register before the deadline or risk missing out.
This is because the free childcare begins the term after your child turns two. So if your child turns two between April 1 and 31 August, the support begins when the autumn term starts on or after 1 September. To apply, go to the government siteOpens in a new window and fill in the online form. If you’ve already registered for one or more of your children, you can sign in to your existing childcare accountOpens in a new window and add another child. You may find out if you’re eligible straight away, but it can take up to 7 days.
If you are eligible for the extra funding, you’ll be sent an 11-digit code to share with your childcare provider, who will also need to see your National Insurance Number and your child’s date of birth. You must reconfirm your eligibility every 3 months to keep your code valid. But don’t worry, you’ll be sent a reminder before the code is due to run out.
There’s more information in our guide Help with childcare costs.
What are my other free childcare options before the new hours come in?
All parents and carers of three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours a week childcare support. You can get an additional 15 hours, bringing their total up to 30 hours a week, if you and the partner you live with are both working, or are the sole parent in a single parent family.
Some parents of two-year-olds who receive certain benefits can already receive 15 hours a week of free childcare. To qualify you must get:
income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Universal Credit, and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit (or both), and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit).
Use our Benefits calculator to find out if you’re eligible.
Two-year-olds can also get free childcare if they:
are looked after by a local authority
have an education, health and care (EHC) plan
- have left care under an adoption order, special guardianship order or a child arrangements order.
If you’re getting childcare support through tax credits.
Childcare support for people on Universal Credit (UC) is more generous than for those getting tax credits. If you’re struggling with rising childcare costs, it might be worth checking if you’ll be better off moving to Universal Credit.
But don’t move without getting advice first, especially if you are getting other means-tested benefits or tax credits and have savings of more than £16,000. Once you have made a claim for UC you can’t go back to your old benefits.
You can find help and advice to help you understand your options, close to where you live by visiting Advice localOpens in a new window and entering your postcode.