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 a year, or 570 hours a year if ‘stretched’. This is known as ‘universal entitlement.’

The Government is increasing this to 30 hours a week (for up to 38 weeks a 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.

Sign up to receive emails about the new childcare schemes in 2017.

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

Find out about help you could get with your childcare costs via the online calculator

Who will not qualify? 

Families will not meet the criteria when:

  • 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 Childcare Choice website 

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.

You can find a list of providers intending to offer the extended entitlement (30 hours free childcare for eligible 3 & 4 year olds) in Plymouth.

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

If you choose a childcare provider outside of the Local Authority area, you can still claim the free funding as long as you do not exceed the maximum entitlement.

Once your eligibilty is 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?

The offer begins on 1 September 2017, and you may access a place 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 1 September to 31 December
Spring Term 1 January to 31 March
Summer Term 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 1 January and 10 February 11 February 31 March
Between 11 February and 31 March 1 April 31 August
Between 1 April and 26 May 27 May 31 August
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 


If you have any queries about free 30 hours extended entitlement

Please contact or tel. 01752 307450