Parents' guide to 15 (universal) hours of free childcare

Universal childcare entitlement means all 3 and 4 year olds can have up 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 a year (up to 570 hours).

Find a childcare provider

You can use the early education and childcare funding at a pre-school, nursery or childminder that has signed up with us to provide this service. There are many different patterns of funding delivery offered. Each provider:

  • will set out how and when they offer their free early education and childcare places
  • must deliver at least one free pattern.

Before accepting a place you will need to check with the provider that their offer suits your needs and if there are any additional conditions.

You can use your 15 hours between 6am and 8pm for a maximum of 10 hours a day.

Split your hours

You can split your 15 hours between providers. For example, a nursery and a childminder. But, you can't use more than 2 sites each day. You don't have to use the whole 15 hours.

Not all providers can be flexible in how they offer the free hours. So, check with your chosen provider to make sure their offer suits your needs.

Stretch your funding

Some providers may offer a stretched pattern of hours. This means, you get fewer hours each week, but for more weeks of the year. You will need to discuss this with your chosen provider.

When a provider is not open for the full 38 weeks, you cannot claim more than 15 (universal) or 30 (extended) hours each week over fewer weeks of the year. If you choose a provider that is open for fewer than 38 weeks of the year you will not receive your full entitlement.

When to use your funding

The 38 weeks or more of free hours can be used in line with the following academic periods:

  • Autumn: 1 September to 31 December
  • Spring: 1 January to last day of the spring holiday
  • Summer: First day of the summer term to 31 August.

Your childcare provider will tell you how many weeks you can use during each period.

What the provider needs from you

To claim funding, the provider will ask:

  • to see your child’s birth certificate or passport
  • you to complete a parental declaration form and will claim the funding for you.

There is no monetary value to you – the entitlement is up to 570 hours free childcare per year. The year starts when your child first becomes eligible for funding. They must also be in the correct date of birth range.

Headcount week

Your child must attend the Kent headcount week to claim the universal element of the free early education and childcare for that term.

Late joiners can claim if their child:

  • is moving to Kent from another local authority after headcount week or;
  • has not claimed at another setting in Kent during that academic period.

If you have not claimed the full 15 hours during headcount, you cannot increase the number of universal hours your 3 or 4 year old attends in the middle of the term.

There are exceptional circumstances where you can make an appeal. For example where a professional supports the increase to meet your child’s health or development needs.

Transfer funding during headcount week

Providers are under no obligation to transfer funding. If you switch providers after the headcount week, you might need to pay the new one until the start of the next term.

An appeals process is in place for exceptional circumstances such as a move, due to adoption or domestic violence.

The funding is for early education and childcare. It is meant to deliver 15 hours of free, high quality childcare. It is not intended to cover the cost of:

  • meals
  • nappies
  • sun cream
  • additional hours
  • activities.

Therefore, expect to pay for these, even though they may be voluntary charges.

Fees for extra time or activities are private. They are between you and a provider. But, your provider must tell you the cost before you take up the extra time, consumables, or activities. Before you agree to take up a place make sure you understand what is being provided.

Your provider cannot charge you a top up. A top up is the difference between what they charge for a 3 and 4 year old and the funding they receive from the government.

They can charge a deposit to secure a free place for your 3 or 4 year old. But, they must return the deposit in full soon after your child takes up the place.

Help is available for children with SEND, and their families. This is known as the local offer.

This includes education, health and social care support for children, including those who do not have education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Visit our SEND information hub.

If you need further information, please contact our Kent Children and Families Information Service.

See information on making an appeal or complaint about free early education and childcare.