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Help with childcare costs

Date updated: 8/25/2021
Contact the Family and Young People's Information Service

For more information about how to access help with childcare costs, please contact the Family and Young People's Information Service:

PO Box 270
London EC2P 2EJ

020 7332 1002 (9am to 5pm - Monday to Friday)

What is it?

Free childcare for two-year-olds is a Government scheme that provides free childcare to two-year-olds whose families are on low incomes, or who are in care or have special needs. The offer funds up to 15 hours childcare a week in a nursery, pre-school or childminder for 38 weeks of the year.

Your two-year-old can get free early education and childcare if you live in England and get one of the following benefits:

  • income support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit - if you and your partner have a combined income from work of £15,400 or less a year, after tax.
  • tax credits and you have an income of £16,190 or less a year, before tax
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

A child can also get free early education and childcare if any of the following apply:

  • they're looked after by a local council
  • they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they've left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order

How does it work?

Eligible children will be offered a place at the start of the school term following their second birthday. They can keep their place until the start of the school term following their birthday. See the below for starting times. 

Childcare for two-year-olds eligibility
A child born on or between: Can start from:
1 April and 31 August September (Autumn term)
1 September and 31 December January (Spring term)
1 January and 31 March April (Summer term)

Where is it available?

If eligible, you can take up your offer at any participating nursery, including those in other local authority areas. Contact the FYi service for more information.

You may be able to get up to 30 hours free childcare (1,140 hours per year, which you can choose how you take) if your child is three to four years old.

The childcare:

  • must be with an approved childcare provider
  • stops when your child starts in reception class (or reaches compulsory school age, if later)

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

You can apply online for a childcare account to get a code for 30 hours to give to your provider.


Your eligibility depends on:

  • if you are working
  • how much you earn
  • your child's circumstances
  • your nationality

You can get 30 hours free childcare at the same time as claiming Universal Credit, tax credits, childcare vouchers or Tax-Free Childcare.

If you are working

You can usually get 30 hours free childcare if you (and your partner, if you have one) are:

  • in work
  • on sick leave or annual leave
  • on parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave

If you're on parental leave, you cannot apply for the child you're on leave for.

If you are not currently working

You may still be eligible if your partner is working, and you get Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Carer's Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.

You can apply if you're starting or re-starting work within the next 31 days.

How much you earn

You'll need to expect to earn a certain amount over the next three months. This is at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week on average.

For example, over the next three months you expect to earn at least £1,707.68 - the National Living Wage for people over 25.

If you have a partner, they'll need to expect to earn at least this much too.

If you're self-employed and do not expect to make enough profit in the next three months, you can use an average of how much you expect to make over the current tax year. 

This earnings limit does not apply if you're self-employed and started your business less than 12 months ago.

If you or your partner have an 'adjusted net income' over £100,000 in the current tax year you will not be eligible. This includes any bonuses you expect to get.

Your adjusted net income is your taxable income before any personal allowances and minus things like Gift Aid.

Your partner

Your partner's employment and income will affect your eligibility if you are:

  • married or in a civil partnership and live together
  • not married or in a civil partnership, but living together as though you are 

Their employment and income will not affect your eligibility if they:

  • are or will be absent from your household for more than six months
  • are a prisoner

Your child

You will not be eligible if your child does not usually live with you.

If you foster your child, you cannot use the online application to get 30 hours free childcare. Speak to your social worker and your local authority if you want to apply.

Your nationality

You will not be eligible if you're from outside the EEA and your UK residence card says you cannot access public funds.

Your partner can apply instead if they're from:

  • the UK or EEA
  • outside the EEA and their UK residence card says they can access public funds

30 hours free childcare eligibility

When your child turns three

When they can get 30 hours from
1 September to 31 December 1 January
1 January to 31 March 1 April
1 April to 31 August 1 September

You can apply outside of these recommended dates but you may not receive your code in time.

You must have a valid code by the end of the month before a new term starts.

You have to reconfirm your eligibility every three months. If you apply more than three months before the term starts, you'll have to reconfirm your eligibility in your account in order to keep your code valid.


Apply online for 30 hours free childcare.

You and your partner cannot both have accounts for the same child.

If you are applying for 30 hours and someone else already claims Tax-Free Childcare for that child, your application will be unsuccessful.

If you are separated

You and your ex-partner need to decide who should apply if you have joint responsibility for your child.

If you cannot decide, both of you must apply separately and HMRC will decide who gets a childcare account.

Tax credits are payments from the government you may qualify for if you are aged 16 or over and usually live in the United Kingdom. You may also qualify if you do not live in the UK but you need to check with HMRC.

There are two types of tax credits available to families:

Child Tax Credits

Child Tax Credit is a payment to help support the costs of bringing up children still in Education. You can claim this credit if you are responsible for one or more child, the amount you receive is dependent on your household income.

For more details go to the Child Tax Credit website.

Working Tax Credits

Working Tax Credit is for people who are employed or self-employed who:

  • typically work 16 hours or more a week
  • are paid for that work, and
  • expect to work for at least four weeks

and who are:

  • aged 16 or over and responsible for at least one child, or
  • aged 16 or over and disabled, or
  • aged 25 or over and usually work at least 30 hours a week

Working Tax Credit is paid to the person who is working 16 hours or more a week. If couples are both working 16 hours or more a week, a choice must be made as to which person will get it.

As part of Working Tax Credit you may be eligible for help towards the costs of childcare. If you receive the childcare element of working Tax Credit, this will always be paid direct to the person who is mainly responsible for caring for children, alongside payments of Child Tax Credit.

For more details go to the Working Tax Credit website.

Am I eligible for Tax Credits?

Check if you qualify with the Tax credits calculator.

How to apply

To claim Tax Credits you have to fill in a claim form. You can only get a Tax Credits claim pack from the Tax Credit Helpline you cannot claim online.

Further information

  • for further information call the Tax Credit Helpline on 0845 300 3900 
  • Visit their Tax credits website to find out more
  • Tax credits are managed by HM Revenues & Customs 

The government has introduced a Tax Free Childcare Scheme. For details go to:


If you are a parent under 20 at the start of your course, Care to Learn can help pay for your childcare and related travel costs while you're learning. 

If you're a full-time higher education student with dependent children, you may be able to get extra financial help. The Childcare Grant could cover as much as 85 per cent of your childcare costs during term time and holidays. If you're eligible, the amount you may get will depend on: 

  • your household income
  • the cost of your childcare
  • the number of children you have

Some employers provide childcare vouchers for their employees to help with their childcare costs. However, these schemes closed to new joiners from 4 October 2018. Any existing users should refer to their scheme provider for information about the changes.