Help with childcare costs

Free childcare if you're working

Eligible working parents and carers may be able to get 570 hours of free childcare a year during school term time. This is usually taken as 15 hours a week over the 38 weeks of school term time, but your childcare provider may allow you to take fewer hours over more weeks.

Free childcare for 3 and 4 year-olds

For eligible working parents and carers of 3 and 4 year-olds, this 570 hours is in addition to the 570 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year-olds that all parents and carers can get. This means you get a total of 1,140 free hours, usually taken as 30 hours a week during school term time.

Free childcare for 2 year-olds

From April 2024 you may be eligible as a working parent or carer of a 2 year-old child, but only if you are not already eligible for 570 free hours under the separate scheme providing free education and childcare for 2 year-olds if you claim certain benefits.

Parents and carers of 2 year-old children can receive a maximum of 570 free hours. If you are eligible for 570 free hours of free education and childcare for 2 year-olds if you claim certain benefits, you must apply under that scheme and not apply below as a working parent or carer.

Free childcare from the age of 9 months

From September 2024, you’ll be able to get 570 free hours of childcare a year for your child from the age of 9 months if you're working and eligible. You can apply below from 12 May 2024.

Eligibility for working parents and carers

Your eligibility as a working parent or carer depends on:

  • whether you’re working – employed, self-employed, or a director
  • your income, and the income of your partner if you have one
  • your child's age and circumstances
  • your immigration status

For full details, go to GOV.UK: Check you're eligible for free childcare if you're working.

You can get this free childcare at the same time as claiming Tax-Free Childcare, Universal Credit, tax credits or childcare vouchers. To compare the different types of support and how much you could get, go to GOV.UK: Check what help you could get with childcare costs.

The table below shows when you can claim free childcare after your child's 2nd or 3rd birthday.

Your child's birthday Start getting free hours Best time to apply
1 January to 31 March Summer term, from April 15 January to 28 February
1 April to 31 August Autumn term, from September 15 June to 31 July
1 September to 31 December Spring term, from January 15 October to 30 November

You may have to pay for extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.

The free early education and childcare stops when your child starts in reception class or reaches compulsory school age, if later.

Apply for free childcare

You can apply both for free childcare if you're working and tax-free childcare in the same place through a single application.

For a step-by-step guide to applying, go to HM Government: Childcare Choices – how to apply for 30 hours childcare or GOV.UK: Get free childcare if you're working – step by step.

You must apply online via the government's website, below. If eligible, you'll get an online childcare account and a code for your free childcare.

GOV.UK: Apply for free childcare if you're working

Re-applying every 3 months

You must sign-in and confirm your details are up-to-date every 3 months or your code will expire. You will receive a reminder to do this.

If a change in your circumstances means you are no longer eligible for the extra hours of free childcare, your funding will continue for a short period of time. This is called a 'grace period'. Your child can continue with their childcare provider until the end of the grace period.

Using your 30 free hours of childcare for 3 or 4 year-olds

Speak with your childcare provider about whether they offer 30 hours a week of free childcare during school term time. When planning how to use your free hours, keep in mind:

  • you use your 30 hours between 6am and 8pm but no session can be longer than 10 hours
  • you don't have to use all 30 hours, just those that meet your needs
  • childcare providers can choose not offer the full 30 hours
  • you can split your hours between providers, but you cannot use more than 2 childcare provider per day – you must get your 30 hours code checked by all the providers you use