Free early education for three and four year olds

Don't miss out on free childcare

The Government has introduced free 30 hours of childcare to eligible families.

Find out more at childcarechoices.gov.uk


Free early education for three and four year olds

All children aged three and four years old are eligible for free early education for up to 15 hours a week, for up to 38 weeks of the academic year, or 570 hours a year if ‘stretched’. This is known as ‘universal entitlement.’

View the Childcare Providers that offer free childcare

The Government is increasing this to 30 hours a week (for up to 38 weeks of the academic year) for working* parents earning the equivalent of the National Minimum wage for 16 hours per week from 1 September 2017. This is known as ‘extended entitlement.’ In Plymouth, providers may offer up to 12 or 24 funded hours per week ‘stretched’ over 47.5 weeks per year.

Eligibility for the extended entitlement

Working* parents of three and four olds will need to meet the following criteria to be eligible for up to 30 hours a week funded childcare

  • Each earns or expects to earn the equivalent to 16 hours a week at the National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months. This equates to £120 a week (or about £6000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old, or £112.80 a week (or about £5800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old and £56 a week for apprentices in their first year.

This means you don't have to actually work 16 hours a week but earn at least the equivalent of these wage rates.

*'Working' will include the employed and self-employed, and people on zero-hour contracts, and people away from work due to statutory sick pay, maternity, paternity or adoption leave, and where one parent is working and the other is in receipt of benefits due to caring responsibility or disability.

Working parents in receipt of Universal Credit may be entitled to receive the childcare costs element of Universal Credit.  This means that they can be reimbursed up to 85% of their eligible childcare costs for childcare which enables them to take up paid work.  Parents can see what help they can get with the cost of childcare via the Childcare Choices website

This childcare costs element can be claimed by parents in addition to the DfE's free childcare element.

The government has also introduced a Tax Free Childcare scheme

Check what help you could get with childcare costs

Use the GOV.UK calculator to find out how much you could get towards approved childcare, including:

  • free childcare for children aged between 2 and 4
  • help with childcare costs if your child is under 16 (or under 17 and disabled)

Start childcare cost calculator

Who will not qualify for extended entitlement? 

  • Families are not in paid work
  • Either parent has an income of more than £100,000 
  • Either parent is a non-EEA national and subject to immigration control (and has no recourse to public funds) 

How do I apply?

You must apply for the extended entitlement hours through childcarechoices.gov.uk  

You will need:

  • Your National Insurance Number, and your partner’s National Insurance Number (if applicable)
  • Child’s name and date of birth

If you are eligible, you will receive an 11 digit code to take directly to a participating childcare provider.

View the Childcare Providers intending to offer free childcare

Your provider will then gain your written permission to verify the code with the Local Authority.

Once verified, a place can be confirmed for the funding period after your child becomes 3 years old.

When can I start using my extended entitlement hours?

You can access a place for the funding period after your child becomes 3 years old.

Please note: if you become eligible after the start of a funding period, you must wait until the following period to access your extended entitlement place.

The funding periods are:

  • Autumn Term from 1 September to 31 December
  • Spring Term from 1 January to 31 March
  • Summer Term from  1 April to 31 August

When would my extended entitlement hours stop?

You will be prompted by text, and/or email every three months to reconfirm your eligibility details. If you do not reconfirm, or your circumstances change, you will only be able to access the extended entitlement hours for a short time known as a ‘Grace Period’.

Date parent receives ineligible decision on reconfirmation           

LA audit date      Grace period end date          
Between 27 May and 31 August 1 September 31 December
Between 1 September and 21 October   22 October    31 December
Between 22 October and 31 December 1 January     31 March

If the grace period has expired and you have not met the eligibility criteria again, you would only be able to access the ‘universal entitlement’ (15 hours per week).

Extended entitlement hours will also stop

  • When your child reaches compulsory school age
  • When your child attends a reception place in a maintained school or academy 

Two year old funding

Some 2-year olds are also entitled to Me2 funding. To claim free early education for two year olds your income must not exceed £16,190.

Children who receive Disability Living Allowance or who have left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption are also entitled to two year old funding. 

Children can only receive a free early education place from the start of the funding period after their second birthday. 


Good quality childcare

Research has shown that good quality childcare can:

  • improve children's development - for example their communication skills
  • help them learn to socialise with other children and make friends
  • give them access to new activities and exciting places to play
  • help them begin to get ready for school

Childcare is also good for families. It can give you a bit more time to spend with your younger children, take up a college course, or go back to work. It will also give you new ideas of activities to do with your child at home and how you can help them grow and learn.

Read the five steps to choosing childcare guide on the Family and Childcare Trust's website for more information. 

Different types of childcare

  • Childminders usually look after children in the Childminder's own home.  Most will work early mornings, evenings and weekends and in the holidays. 
  • Pre-schools offer sessions of between 2.5 and 4 hours in term time.  Many offer 15 hours a week free early learning for 2, 3 and 4 year olds.
  • Nurseries offer full daycare usually from 8am to 6pm.
  • School nursery classes open during school hours, offering full or half-day sessions.
  • Out of school care offer before and after school sessions and holiday care.

Check quality

Ofsted registered childcare providers are inspected and you can view the results on the Ofsted website

Thinking ahead

Many parents are able to find suitable childcare as soon as they need it, but for others it may take several months of searching before you can find somewhere that accommodates both your own and your child's needs.

Think about what you want and need from childcare and what kind of childcare would best suit your needs. For example, do you need childcare in the evening, early morning or at the weekend? Will you need additional childcare for school age children during school holidays? 

Childcare survey

We have developed a quick online survey and we would be very grateful if you could complete it. We will use this information to improve childcare services for you and your family.

View and complete the childcare survey


Thinking of becoming a Childminder?

If you would enjoy giving children the best start in life, being your own boss and working from home then becoming an Ofsted registered childminder could be the ideal career for you. This career can fit around your own family so you can care for your own children at the same time. For further details about becoming a Childminder please contact the Early Years Team on 01752 307450.

If you have any queries about free 30 hours extended entitlement

Please contact earlyyears@plymouth.gov.uk or tel. 01752 307450