Free early education for two, three and four year olds

Every child aged three and four is eligible to access free early education. The free places are available in settings that are Ofsted registered and are on the local authority register of eligible providers.

The funding allows you to access up to 15 hours per week during school term time (38 weeks per year).  The hours can be spread  over more weeks of the year, up to a total of 570 hours.

More information can be found in a parent's guide to free early education for three and four year olds (PDF 3.38MB)

Some 2 year old children are eligible for a free place and more information can be found in our leaflet Free early education and childcare for two year olds.(PDF 1.81MB)
If you think your child may be eligible for a free 2 year old place call into a Children's Centre  or Approved Provider as they will be able to check if your child is eligible and a letter will then be issued to take to your chosen provider.

You can contact any school or childcare provider that is registered to ask about vacancies.

Childcare element of Working Tax Credit

It’s often said that the cost of childcare puts parents off returning to work. It’s true that childcare isn’t cheap but  if you are eligible the childcare element of Working Tax Credit can help to cover some of the cost.

In most cases you have to work for 16 hours a week to qualify, and you must use registered or approved childcare. This can include childminders, playgroups, nurseries or someone who looks after a child in your home. 

How much help can you get?

You can get help with up to 70% of your childcare costs, based on a maximum of £175 a week for one child or £300 a week if you have two or more children.

That works out as:

  • up to £122.50 a week for one child, or
  • up to £210 a week for two or more children.

You won't necessarily get the full £122.50 or £210 a week – the actual amount you get will depend on your income, the hours you work and your childcare costs. The lower your income, the more tax credits you can get.

Use the Tax credits calculator on the HM Revenue & Customs website to find out if you qualify and get a rough idea of how much you could be entitled to.

Childcare vouchers

Childcare vouchers are a way of paying for childcare through a scheme run by you employer and you can  choose your own childcare provider, as long as they’re registered or approved.

You can receive up to the following amounts in childcare vouchers each month without having to pay tax or National Insurance on them.

  • £243 a month if you’re a basic-rate taxpayer.
  • £124 a month if you're a higher-rate taxpayer.
  • £97 a month if you are an additional-rate taxpayer.

The vouchers may be offered as a benefit on top of your ordinary pay or through a ‘salary sacrifice’ scheme where you permanently give up some ordinary pay in return for vouchers. You’ll pay tax on any extra vouchers your employer pays unless you earn less than £8,500 a year.

Tax Free Childcare (see below) will replace childcare vouchers over time, they will remain open for new joiners until October 2018 and parents already using them will continue to do so after this date providing their employer still offers them.

Direct payment for childcare

This is much the same as the childcare voucher system, except your employer pays the registered or approved childcare provider directly. Your employer can pay up to the amounts above each month without you having to pay tax or National Insurance on it.

If your employer pays more than this amount to your childcare provider you’ll have to pay tax on it unless you earn less than £8,500 a year.

Find out more about childcare vouchers and other ways employers can help with childcare in the HM Revenue & Customs leaflet, Paying for childcare

Tax Free Childcare

Tax Free Childcare has been introduced to help working parents pay for childcare.  Parents can open an online childcare account and for every £8 they pay in they will receive an extra £2, up to a maximum of £2000 per child per year which they will use to pay for their childcare directly.

To qualify both parents have to be in work (or the only parent if single parent family) and earning at least £115 per week but not more than £100,000 per year.

Tax Free Childcare can be used for registered childminders, nurseries, pre schools and school based care such as after school clubs.

There is more information about Tax Free Childcare and other types of help available at where you will also find achildcare calculator to see how much you could get and an opportunity to register.


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