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).

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Free early education and childcare can be used at a pre-school, nursery or childminder who has signed up with KCC to provide this service. Each provider will set out how and when they will offer their free early education and childcare places. There will be many different patterns of delivery offered. Each provider must deliver at least 1 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.

You can split your 15 hours between providers, for example a nursery and a childminder, but at no more than 2 sites each day. You don't have to use the whole 15 hours.

Not all providers can be flexible in the way they offer the free hours. You will need to check with your chosen provider to make sure their offer suits your needs.

Some providers may offer a stretched pattern of hours, which means you receive fewer hours each week but over 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 less than 38 weeks of the year you will not receive your full entitlement.

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.

The provider will ask to see your child’s birth certificate or passport. They will also ask you to complete a Parental Declaration Form and will claim the funding for you - there is no monetary value given to you. The entitlement is up to 570 hours free childcare per year. The year starts when your child first becomes eligible for funding.

Three and 4 year olds must attend during the Kent designated headcount week to be able to claim the universal element of the free early education and childcare for that academic period. Late joiners can claim their free early education if:

  • a child is moving to Kent from another local authority after headcount week or;
  • a child 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 a child’s health or development needs.

Providers are under no obligation to transfer funding when a child moves between settings following headcount. If you choose to change provider after the headcount you may be required to pay your new provider until the start of the next academic period. In exceptional circumstances such as a move of setting because of adoption or fleeing domestic violence you can make an appeal.

The early education and childcare funding is intended to deliver 15 hours of free, high quality childcare. It is not intended to cover the cost of the meals, other consumables such as nappies or sun cream, additional hours or activities.

Fees for any additional time or activities are a private matter between you and a provider although your provider must let you know the cost before you take up the additional time, consumables or activities. Before you agree to take up a place make sure you understand what is being provided.

You cannot be charged a top up (the difference between what the provider normally charges for a 3 and 4 year old and the funding they receive from the government) for the free early education and childcare place you receive.

The setting can charge a deposit to secure a free place for 3 and 4 year olds, however they must return the deposit in full within a reasonable timescale once the child has taken up the place.

There is support available for pre-school children with special educational needs (SEN) and/or disabilities, and their families known as the local offer. This local offer 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.

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

Information about making an appeal or complaint about Free Early Education and Childcare can be found on our complaints page.