Free childcare

Early years children aged 3 to 4 are sat playing on the floor, reading books and playing with toys whilst their nursery school teacher smiles at the camera

Do you have a 2, 3 or 4 year old? Did you know every 3 and 4 year old, as well as some 2-year-olds, are entitled to 15 free hours of early education and childcare over 38 weeks. You might be able to spread your childcare over more weeks depending on your provider. This is called 'stretched funding'.

If you are a working parent you also may qualify for an extra 15 hours of childcare for your 3 or 4 year old.

New childcare funding from April 2024

Between April 2024 to September 2025, childcare support will change. By September 2025, most working families with children under 5 will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare.

The changes will happen in phases.

PhaseMonth The change
1 April 2024 Eligible working parents of 2 year olds can apply for 15 hours childcare support.
2 September 2024 15 hours childcare support will be extended to eligible working parents of children from 9 months to 3 years old.
3 September 2025 Eligible working parents of children under 5 years old, will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare a week.

From 12 May 2024, parents of 9 to 23-month-olds will be invited to apply for their childcare codes ahead of the September 2024 rollout.

Some 2-year-olds can get up to 15 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year.

Some childcare providers offer fewer hours per week over extra weeks (up to 570 hours).

This is a national childcare scheme and is for 2-year-olds who meet the government criteria. In Kent we call this scheme 'Free for 2'.

Once you have been confirmed eligible for a free 2-year-old place, the funding will remain with your child until they take up their free 3-year old place. Even if your circumstances change.

Find out if your child is eligible

Child born between Will become eligible for free early education and childcare
1 January and 31 March The start of term 5 following their second birthday (after Easter holiday)
1 April and 31 August The start of term 1 following their second birthday (after summer holiday)
1 September and 31 December The start of term 3 following their second birthday (after Christmas/New Year holiday)

Apply

You can apply for 'Free for 2' when your child reaches 1 year and 10 months. Don't apply before then.

You cannot get free childcare until after your child turns two. Even if you apply and get a voucher.

You will need an email address to create an account.

If you think you meet the government criteria for 2-year-old funding, complete an application below.

Check eligibility and apply

Application support

If you need help, use our guidance for support using the application system (PDF, 829.8 KB).

If you are a non-UK citizen who cannot claim benefits and do not have a National Insurance (NI) or National Asylum Support Service (NASS), email miearlyyears@kent.gov.uk for help.

If you can’t apply online

Please do not apply more than once as this can delay the checking process.

Using your free childcare for 2-year-olds funding

For more information on eligibility and using your free childcare for 2-year-olds, read our guide for parents.

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Free for 2 - video transcript

If you are an eligible working parent, you can currently apply for 15 hours of childcare for your 2-year-old.

To access childcare in the summer term, you must apply before 31 March.

If you apply more than 3 months before the start of the new term, you will need to reconfirm your details before the end of the month before the start of the new term. This is to ensure you are still eligible.

From September 2024, eligible working parents with children aged 9-months to 3-years old can receive up to 15 hours of childcare each week.

Some childcare providers may offer fewer hours per week over more weeks of a year (up to 570 hours). This is known as stretched funding.

The Department for Education sets the dates for when children become eligible by age.

Here are the applicable dates for the entitlement from 9 months and 2 years.

9-month-olds and above

Child bornChild turns 9 months Will become eligible for free childcare
1 July to 30 November1 April to 31 August The start of term 1 (after summer holiday)
1 December to 31 March1 September to 31 December The start of term 3 (after Christmas/New Year holiday)
1 April to 30 June1 January to 31 March The start of term 5 (after Easter holiday)

2-year-olds

Child born between Will become eligible for free childcare
1 January and 31 March The start of term 5 following their third birthday (after Easter holiday)
1 April and 31 August The start of term 1 following their third birthday (after summer holiday)
1 September and 31 December The start of term 3 following their third birthday (after Christmas/New Year holiday)

Eligibility

To qualify for a childcare code you must meet the following criteria. Over the next 3 months you and your partner (if you have one) must each expect to earn at least:

  • £2,380 before tax if you’re aged 21 or over (equivalent to £183 per week)
  • £1,788 before tax if you’re aged 18 to 20 (equivalent to £137 per week)
  • £1,331 before tax if you’re under 18 or an apprentice (equivalent to £102 per week).

This is the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week on average.

You can use an average of how much you expect to earn over the current tax year if:

  • you work throughout the year but do not get paid regularly
  • you’re self-employed and do not expect to earn enough in the next 3 months.

Example

You’re eligible if you’re 21 or over and do not have a regular income but earn £9,518 a year. This is the same as earning £2,379 every 3 months on average.

Visit Childcare Choices for more information, to sign up for updates and try out the handy eligibility checker to discover how you can save money on your childcare.

Apply for free childcare if you're working.

Using your Working Parent Entitlement

Read our guide to the Working Parent Entitlement. It explains the full eligibility criteria, how to apply, and other details.

All 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare each week for 38 weeks a year.

Some childcare providers may offer fewer hours per week over more weeks of a year (up to 570 hours). This is known as stretched funding.

The Department for Education sets the dates for when children become eligible by age. The dates apply to both the universal (15 hours) and extended (30 hours) entitlement.

Child born between Will become eligible for free childcare
1 January and 31 March The start of term 5 following their third birthday (after Easter holiday)
1 April and 31 August The start of term 1 following their third birthday (after summer holiday)
1 September and 31 December The start of term 3 following their third birthday (after Christmas/New Year holiday)

You do not need to apply for this funding. Simply find a childcare provider who is registered with us to deliver it to access your 15 hours.

Read our guide to 15-hour funding. It explains the full eligibility criteria, how to apply, and other details.

Eligible working families with 3 and 4 year olds can receive up to 30 hours of free childcare each week. This is 15 extra hours of free childcare. This is in addition to the universal entitlement and is called extended entitlement.

It is available over 38 weeks a year. Some providers may offer fewer hours per week over more weeks (up to 1,140 hours total for the 30 hours).

The Department for Education sets the dates for when children become eligible by age.

Child born between Will become eligible for free childcare
1 January and 31 March The start of term 5 following their third birthday (after Easter holiday)
1 April and 31 August The start of term 1 following their third birthday (after summer holiday)
1 September and 31 December The start of term 3 following their third birthday (after Christmas/New Year holiday)

When to apply

You must apply for your 30-hours eligibility code in the term before your child becomes eligible by age. If they are already eligible by age, apply in the term before you wish to take up the offer.

If you don't apply within the recommended timeframes, you may not get your code in time.

If you receive your code, and do not apply before the deadline, you can only take your childcare place until the term after.

When your child turns 3When they can get 30 hours fromRecommended time to applyDeadline for applying
1 September to 31 December1 January15 October to 30 November31 December
1 January to 31 March1 April15 January to 28 February31 March
1 April to 31 August1 September15 June to 31 July31 August

Apply for 30-hours

Before you apply, you’ll need to sign up online and get an eligibility code. Once you have the code, you can continue to apply.

Apply for 30-hours of free childcare

Don't forget, once you have your 30-hours childcare place, you’ll need to confirm your eligibility every 3 months.

Read our guide to 30-hour funding. It explains the full eligibility criteria, how to apply, and other details.

For other options and information to support you with childcare costs visit Childcare Choices.