Parent's guide to 30 hours of free childcare

The Government has extended the free early education and childcare entitlement for eligible 3 and 4 year olds from 15 hours to 30 hours a week. This means eligible children will receive up to 1140 hours of free childcare a year.

Eligibility for 30 hours of free childcare

To qualify for 30 hours of free childcare, each parent (or the sole parent in a single parent family) will need to earn on average, the equivalent of 16 hours on the national minimum wage per week and no more than £100,000 per year.

A family with an annual household income of £199,999 would be eligible if each parent earns just under £100,000. Self-employed parents and parents on zero-hours contracts will be eligible if they meet the average earnings threshold.

There are exceptions if both parents usually work but:

  • one or both parents are away from work on statutory sick pay
  • one or both parents are on parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave.

In addition, parents are eligible if one parent is employed, but the other:

  • has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits for caring
  • is disabled or incapacitated based on specific benefits.

Parents who works less than 16 hours a week

Eligibility is based on income earned, not hours worked. If a parent works for less than 16 hours, but in that time, earns more than the equivalent of 16 hours per week at national living wage (or minimum wage for under 25s), they will still be eligible.

All 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds will remain entitled to 15 hours of early education per week during term time, regardless of the employment status of their parent(s).

Check if you are eligible

Use the Childcare Choices website to check if you are eligible for 30 hours of free childcare.

This sets out all current and upcoming childcare offers and support available to parents, including:

  • Tax-Free Childcare scheme
  • 15 and 30 free hours entitlement
  • tax credits
  • universal credit
  • childcare vouchers.

Applying

You can apply for both the 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare using a single application.

You must apply for your new 30 hour eligibility code before the start of the academic period in which you take up your place, apply by:

  • 31 August to start claiming the entitlement in September
  • 31 December to start claiming the entitlement in January
  • 31 March to start claiming the entitlement in April.

If you apply after this date you will be issued with a start date and be told you can access 30 hours the following term. Check the exact dates of the holidays and terms on our term dates page.

To complete the application, you will need to provide details such as your name, address and national insurance number, as well as if you expect to meet the income requirements over the next 3 months and if you are in receipt of any benefits.

If you live with a partner, you will need to provide the same information for them. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will decide whether your child is eligible for the 30 hours (as well as Tax-Free Childcare).

If you are eligible, you will be given an 11-digit code that you will need to give to your childcare provider along with your national insurance number and your child’s birth certificate.

They will check the code is valid using the government’s eligibility checking system. If it is, they will be able to book your child’s place – but bear in mind that providers don’t have to take part in the 30 hour offer, so you are advised to speak to your childcare provider about what they are able to offer.

HMRC is responsible for determining who is eligible for the 30 hour offer. Contact HMRC if you have queries about eligibility checking or experiencing ongoing technical issues - call 0300 123 4097.

If you provide false information about eligibility you can be fined between £300 and £3000.

Finding your 30 hours code

After you have successfully applied online you need to log into your childcare service account to get your 11 digit code.

If you are having problems follow this step-by-step guide to finding your 30 hours code in your childcare service account (PDF, 198.8 KB).

The DfE has confirmed that providers can validate your code (beginning with '11) via the Eligibility Checking System (ECS).

Reconfirm your eligibility every 3 months

You must reconfirm your eligibility 3 months from the date you applied to receive the extra hours (or Tax-Free Childcare), then again every 3 months. You must also reconfirm your code even if your child has not yet started their 30 hour place.

How to reconfirm

  • You must reconfirm your eligibility up to 4 weeks before your reconfirmation date, by logging into your Childcare Service account. You are advised to make a note of this date in case you don't receive the reminder from HMRC.
  • HMRC should text or email you 4 weeks, and then 2 weeks before the deadline to log into your Childcare Service account. You should keep them informed of any changes to your contact details.
  • In your account go to 'secure message'. The section on reconfirmation will tell you the reconfirmation date.

The reconfirmation process may differ for some parents

  • If your circumstances haven't changed you will need to tick a box to confirm this. You will not receive a new code, your existing one will get extended for 3 more months.
  • If your circumstances have changed you must amend and resubmit your details.
  • If you completed your original application over the phone, call HMRC to reconfirm your eligibility on 0300 123 4097.
  • If you currently have a temporary code (these start with 11) you must complete a new application through your childcare service account to get a permanent code.

If you are no longer eligible

  • If your family no longer meets the criteria, we will inform your childcare provider and you will stop being eligible to claim the extra hours. There will be a grace period until the start of the next funded period to give you the opportunity to start work again. If your circumstances change during the grace period you can reapply and continue to receive the extra hours.
  • You will still be able to receive 15 hours of Free Early Education and Childcare for 3 and 4 year olds even if you are no longer eligible for the extended entitlement.

Choose a childcare provider

Not all providers will take part in the 30 hours of free childcare offer, so please speak to your childcare provider about what they are able to offer.

Find childcare providers.

Support for children with special educational needs and disabilities(SEND)

There is support available for pre-school children with special educational needs (SEN) and/or disabilities, and their families. You may have heard this called the local offer, and includes education, health and social care support for children, including those who do not have education, health and care plans.

Find support for children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families.

Additional costs you might have to pay for

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 providers may charge for meals and snacks as part of the free entitlement place and may also charge for consumables such as nappies and sun cream and for services such as trips. The provider cannot make these charges a condition of accessing the free place.

Further information

If you need any further information you can:

  • speak with your childcare provider
  • contact HMRC for queries about eligibility checking - call 0300 123 4097
  • contact us