Free Childcare Funding for 3 & 4 Year Olds – Everything you Need to Know

This article explains everything you will need to know about free childcare funding for 3 and 4 year olds in England. Perhaps you’ve heard reference to ’15 hours funding’ or ’30 hours funding’ and need some clarification about what they mean and whether your child is entitled to them. If so, read on …

15 hours of free childcare funding

How it works

All 3 and 4 year old children in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare funding per week. This is funded by the UK Government, the funding being paid direct to the approved childcare setting involved. The 15 hours per week are usually spread over 38 weeks of the year, totalling a maximum of 570 hours. However, they can be spread out in a different way should the need arise, subject to agreement of the nursery, pre-school or other childcare setting involved.

Eligibility

After application, funding is available from the first term following the child’s 3rd birthday. In practice, this means that the child can start from either 1 January, 1 April or 1 September depending on which part of the year their third birthday falls.

The income of the child’s parent or guardian is not a factor affecting eligibility for the 15 hours of free funding for 3 and 4 year olds. Similarly, the work situation of the child’s parent or guardian is not a factor.

The child is eligible until either they start primary school (usually in the September term following their 4th birthday) or until they reach the compulsory age for school if that’s later.
It’s important to note that the Government funding does not usually cover extra things like nappies, food and the cost of any trips.

How to apply

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is an approved childcare setting, so let us know if you require ’15 hours childcare funding’ per week for your three or four year old child. We can then assist you with your application. Also let us know if you’d prefer to stretch the 570 total hours over more weeks of the year and we’ll do our best to accommodate you.

30 hours of free childcare funding

How it works

Some 3-4 year old children are also eligible for an extra 15 hours of free childcare funding each week. This brings the total to 30 Government funded hours per week for those children, making 1140 hours over the course of the year (based on 38 weeks). As with the 15 hours funding, this can be spread out in a different way if that’s practical. For example, it could be taken as less than 30 hours per week but stretched out over a greater number of weeks in the year if preferred.

You are usually eligible for 30 hours of childcare funding even if you are already claiming Universal Credit, Tax Credits, Childcare Vouchers or Tax-Free Childcare.

Eligibility:

Eligibility generally depends four key factors:

  • Whether you are working;
  • How much you are earning;
  • Your child’s circumstances;
  • Your nationality.

If you are in work, you are usually eligible if you (and your partner, if applicable) are on sick or annual leave, or on parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave. Note that you cannot claim funding for any child that you are on parental leave for.

If you are not in work, you can usually apply if you’re due to start/re-start working within 31 days of the application. Also, if your partner is still in work while you are receiving Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer’s Allowance or Employment & Support Allowance, you may still apply.

With regard to your earnings (whether working as a single parent or part of a couple that both work), in order to remain eligible:

  • You, and your spouse or partner if you have one living with you¹, must expect to earn at least the weekly equivalent of 16 hours per week at the National Living Wage or Minimum Wage over the coming quarter. (That’s unless you are self-employed if you became so less than a year ago).
  • Neither of you will earn an Adjusted Net Income* of more than £100,000, including any bonuses, in the current tax year.
    * ‘Adjusted Net Income’ is your total taxable income before personal allowances less adjustments for things like Gift Aid.
    ¹ If your partner does not live in your household for more than 6 months of the year, or if they are in prison, their employment and income will not affect your eligibility.

With regard to your child’s circumstances, you will not be eligible for 30 hour childcare funding if your child doesn’t usually live with you. There are also different application mechanisms for foster parents, who will need to apply through their local authority or social worker.

When it comes to nationality, parents or their partners will be potentially eligible for 30 hour funding if they are from the UK or EEA (European Economic Area). Parents from outside the EEA would require a UK residence card that states that they can access public UK funds.

How & when to apply

Parents can apply for 30 hours childcare funding once their child reaches the age of 2 years and 36 months (that’s just over 2 years and 8 months of age). When they actually start depends upon when they reach the age of 3. Below, we include some application date guidelines which, if followed, usually ensure that parents receive their approval code in time:

  • If your child reaches the age of 3 between September and December, then the recommended time to apply for 30 hours funding is between mid October and the end of November that year. If successful, they will then be able to start in the January term.
  • If they turn 3 between January and March, then the recommended time to apply is between mid January and the end of February. If successful, they will then be able to start in the April term.
  • If they turn 3 between April and August, then the recommended time to apply is between mid June and the end of July. If successful, they will then be able to start in the September term.

Note that parents need to re-confirm their eligibility each and every quarter.

You can apply here but note that there can only be one account and application per child. Duplications (e.g. from a partner, ex-partner or additional claim) will be rejected.

Looking for free childcare funding for 2 year olds?

Do you have a child under three that needs childcare services? We wrote a detailed article about free childcare funding for 2 year olds too (click to learn more).

Further information

To discuss funding options or anything to do with childcare services, contact the staff at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery. Please call 0121 246 4922 or email and we’ll be happy to help. We are a nursery and pre-school based in Edgbaston, very close to Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick near Birmingham, B16.