The Government has announced that, over the course of 2024, it will gradually be extending the current scheme that provides 30 hours of free childcare a week to eligible working parents of 3 and 4 year olds in England – first, to eligible working parents of 2 year olds (15 hours of free childcare) and then to eligible working parents of children aged 9 months or over (15 hours of free childcare).


Eventually, the Government says, there will be 30 hours of free childcare a week for all children – from 9 months until they start school.

The Scottish government has also announced a pilot scheme to provide childcare from 9 months to the end of primary school.

So, can I claim the free hours of childcare for my child now?

Only if your child is 3 or 4 (and not at school) and you meet the eligibility criteria we've listed below in our Eligibility checker section.

The 30 hours of childcare for younger children (9 months to 3 years) will be phased in gradually in 2024, starting with 15 free hours a week for 2 year olds for April 2024, and 15 free hours a week for 9 month olds from September 2024.

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  • If your child is 2 or will be 2 in April 2024, and so might qualify for the 15 hours free childcare in from April 2024, you can apply now. In fact, parents are encouraged to apply before the end of February 2024, to ensure they receive their eligibility codes in time for the rollout in April.
  • If your child is 9 months old or will be in September 2024, and so might qualify for the 15 hours of free childcare from September 2024, you can apply when applications open on 12 May 2024.

Eligibility checker: find out if your child qualifies

In order to be able to claim the current offer of 30 hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, you must meet ALL of the following:

  • Your child is either 3 or 4 years old
  • You live in England (there are different schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • Your child lives with you
  • Both the child's parents are working or you are a working parent in a lone-parent family. You may also be eligible if your partner is working and you are on sick leave or shared parental leave or maternity/paternity/adoption leave or you receive certain benefits.
  • Each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage
  • Each parent has a net annual income of less than £100,000
  • The childcare is provided by an approved provider, which can include a registered childminder, nanny, playsheme or nursery

If you don't meet all these criteria, you'll still qualify for 15 hours free childcare for your 3 or 4 year old: your local council will be able to provide you with further details about that.

What about the free hours of childcare for 2 year olds?

From April 2024, the free childcare scheme is being gradually extended to younger children, starting with 2 year olds.

Eligible working parents of 2-year-olds in England can claim 15 hours of free childcare per week. You can find out if you are eligible with the Government's checker tool and then apply now.

What about the free hours of childcare for 9 months olds and up?

From September 2024, eligible working parents in England can claim 15 hours of free childcare per week for their children from the age of 9 months until they start school.

And, from September 2025, this offer will be extended to 30 hours of free childcare per week.

Do you get 30 hours every week all year round?

No. The 30 hours is based on a school term-time schedule, rather than a working parent schedule. So, the offer is for 30 hours free per week for 38 weeks per year (during school-term time), not 52 weeks of the year.

It adds up to 1,140 free hours across the year or approximately 22 free hours per week across 52 weeks.

Can I spread the free hours across 52 weeks?

In theory, yes, you may be able to spread the free childcare out over the whole year but this will mean you'll get fewer than 30 hours free childcare each week. It will also depend on what your nursery or childminder is willing to offer.

Which childcare providers are able to offer 30 hours free childcare?

  • Registered nurseries and nursery classes
  • Registered playgroups/playschemes and pre-schools
  • Schools
  • Registered childminders and nannies, including those from a childminder or nanny agency
  • Home care workers working for a registered home care agency

So how can nurseries that offer this free 30 hours of childcare afford to do so?

The Government pays an hourly rate to childcare providers but there is often a shortfall between that rate and the rate the provider charges to parents.

This has meant that, in many childcare settings, the shortfall is being covered by charging for extras and/or putting up the fees for non-free hours or for younger babies. That's because, under the scheme, providers can't charge any money for the 30 hours but they can charge for other extras or ask for contributions.

If my child is 4 and has started primary school. Can I use some of the 30 hours to cover outside-school childcare?

No because the time your child is at school counts as the free childcare hours. "Children who are in Reception are receiving their entitlement through the school," says a Department of Education spokesperson. "Therefore, they cannot receive 30 hours on top of the child's Reception place."

How do I apply for the 30 hours or 15 hours free childcare?

You apply online on the Government's website. The application process can take up to 20 mins to complete. However it will time out if you don't do anything for more than 15 mins. So make sure you have the following to hand in advance:

  • Your National Insurance number (or, if you're self-employed, your Unique Taxpayer Reference)
  • The date you started, or are due to start work
  • Details of any Government support or benefits you receive

How do I claim the free hours at my nursery?

Once you've applied and registered, you'll receive a code – if you're eligible. Take your code to your childcare provider, along with your National Insurance number and your child’s date of birth

Your childcare provider will check the code and then allocate your child a free childcare place, if one is available.


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Pics: Getty Images


Tara BreathnachContent Editor and Social Media Producer

Tara is mum to 1 daughter, Bodhi Rae, and has worked as Content Editor and Social Media Producer at MadeForMums since 2015