Parents' guide to 30 hours of free childcare

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

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-hour contracts will be eligible if they meet the average earnings threshold.

Parents can still be eligible if they 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 1 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 work 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.

HMRC is responsible for determining who is eligible for the 30 hour offer. Contact HMRC if you have queries about checking your eligibility or if you're experiencing ongoing technical issues by phone on 0300 123 40 97.

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

From 1 September some children in foster care may be eligible for 30 hours however the criteria and the application process are different.

Apply for both the 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare using a single application.

You must apply for and receive your new 30 hour eligibility code before the start of the academic period. You need to apply for and have received your code 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 these dates you will be issued with a start date to access 30 hours the following term. Check the exact dates of the holidays and terms.

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 receive 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 can book your child’s place. Providers don’t need to take part in the 30 hour offer, so you need to speak to your childcare provider about what they can offer.

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

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

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).

How to reconfirm

If you applied online you must reconfirm your eligibility up to 4 weeks before your reconfirmation date by logging into your childcare service account and finding your reconfirmation date in the 'secure message' section. You should make a note of this date in case you don't receive the reminder from HMRC.

Although you should receive a reminder from HMRC by text or email 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.

The reconfirmation process may be different for some parents/carers. If your:

  • circumstances haven't changed you will need to tick a box to confirm this - you will not receive a new code as your existing one will get extended for 3 months more
  • circumstances have changed you must amend and resubmit your details - if your eligibility gets reconfirmed, your existing code will be extended for 3 months more
  • original application was made over the phone you need to call HMRC to reconfirm your eligibility on 0300 123 4097
  • code is temporary (starting with 11), you must complete a new application through your childcare service account to get a permanent code - your temporary code cannot be renewed and you will fall out of eligibility if you do not complete a new application for 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 apply again 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.

From September 2018 some children in foster care who are aged 3 or 4 years old may be able to receive 30 hours free childcare if:

  • accessing the extending hours is consistent with the child's care plan
  • there is a single foster parent family, the foster parent is engaging in paid work outside their role as a foster parent
  • there are 2 foster parents in the same fostering household, both are engaging in paid work outside their role as a foster parent.

Foster carers will need to speak with their social worker who will need to complete a separate application form before an eligibility check is completed (not through HMRC).

Foster carers who have been confirmed as eligible will also need to reconfirm their details every 3 months. They will need to speak to their social worker to complete the Reconfirmation Statement for 30 hours of free childcare for foster children in Kent, to continue receiving the extra hours.

If you are fostering a child from outside of Kent you should contact the supervising social worker from that authority and apply through them.

Find childcare providers

Not all providers take part in the 30 hours of free childcare offer. If your current or chosen provider is not offering 30 hours free childcare per week you may wish to consider alternative providers who may be able to meet your needs. You can also split your hours over more than 1 provider, but at no more than 2 sites in a day. Therefore you could consider finding 2 providers willing to work in partnership to meet your needs, one of which must be signed up to deliver 30 hours.

If you have been offered a place you will need to provide the following information to your childcare provider:

  • your child's birth certificate
  • National Insurance number of either parent who made the application to chosen childcare provider and;
  • your 30-hour eligibility code (the 11 digit number you will have been given if you are eligible)

The provider will then verify and validate the code, ask you to complete a parental declaration and agree a start date for your child to begin accessing 30 hours free childcare per week.

You can:

  • use your 30 hours between 6am and 8pm for a maximum of 10 hours a day
  • split your 30 hours between providers, for example a nursery and a childminder, but at no more than 2 sites each day.

Not all providers can be flexible in the way they offer the free hours, so 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 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 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. Your childcare provider will tell you how many weeks you can use during each period.

  • 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

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 funding for that academic period. A child’s funded hours are based on the hours they attend during the designated headcount week and cannot be increased until the following term. Please contact your childcare provider for details of when headcount is.

They must also attend a setting during headcount week for the extended entitlement, however there are some circumstances where there is a degree of flexibility with this element of funding. The extended entitlement is intended to support working families with childcare and therefore the extended hours can be increased during a term to support a change in a parent’s working pattern. The universal entitlement cannot be increased for the same child. Parents should ask their providers to check with our Management Information Team that an additional claim can be submitted before deciding and signing a Parental Declaration accordingly.

Children cannot start a new 30 hours place at a provider during a grace period. This includes when a parent has fallen into their grace period before their child has started their 30-hour place and where a parent seeks to move their child to a different provider when the parent has already fallen into their grace period.

Providers are under no obligation to transfer funding. If you choose to change provider after headcount you may be required to pay your new provider until the start of the next academic period. An appeals process is in place for exceptional circumstances such as a move of setting because of adoption or domestic violence.

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 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.

See information on making an appeal or complaint about Free Early Education and Childcare.