Free early education and childcare for 2-year-olds

In Merton, some children are entitled to up to 15 hours a week of free part-time early education and childcare at the age of two. This adds up to 570 hours a year spent playing, learning and make friends in a stimulating, safe environment.

Enjoying good quality early education has been found to give children a good start in life, making them more likely to enjoy and do well at school. They can:

  • Develop their speech and language
  • Make friends and play with other children
  • Try out new and exciting activities
  • Learn new skills

Find out if you are eligible  

The childcare entitlement for working parents of two-year-olds is expanding for more information please go here

Please check the section below for full details of eligibility criteria.

When can my child get a free place?

Children who are eligible can take up a free place after their second birthday as shown by the table below

Child born between

Can take up a free place from the
funding period starting 

1 January and 31 March

1 April

1 April and 31 August

1 September

1 September and 31 December

1 January


Is my child eligible for a free place?

Not all children are eligible for a free place. Please read the information below to see if you meet the eligibility criteria.

Your 2-year-old child may be able to get a free place if you are claiming one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit - and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including any benefits
  • Tax Credits and you have an annual household income of under £16,190 before tax
  • the guaranteed element of  Pension Credit
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

If you think you may be eligible, you need to check to confirm this. You can check your eligibility here: Free early education for 2-year-olds eligibility checker

If you are eligible, you will be given a reference number / code which you will need to give to your chosen childcare provider. This number will allow the provider to offer you a free place.

Places are also available if:

  1. Your child has a current Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan; or
  2. You have adopted your child or you have a special guardianship order or residence order to care for them or
  3. The child is looked after by the Local Authority, for example, they are in foster care
  4. The child gets Disability Living Allowance

If you meet any of these four criteria, you will need to upload  proof (such as a copy of your child's EHC plan or adoption certificate) here: Free early education for 2-year-olds eligibility checker  This will be checked and you will be given a reference number/code which you will need to give to your chosen childcare provider. This number will allow the provider to offer you a free place.

Families with 'No recourse to public funds'

If you’re a non-UK citizen who cannot claim benefits, and your immigration status says you have ‘no recourse to public funds’ your 2-year-old may be able to get free childcare.  You must live in England and your household income must be no more than:

  • £26,500 for families outside of London with one child
  • £34,500 for families within London with one child
  • £30,600 for families outside of London with two or more children
  • £38,600 for families within London with two or more children

You cannot have more than £16,000 in savings or investments.

If you meet the ‘no recourse to public funds’ criteria please contact and someone will contact you to assist with your application.

Please contact Merton Council at if you’re unsure if you can get free childcare or if you need help with your application.

Do I need to keep checking my eligibility for my childcare provider?

Once you have confirmed your eligibility with your childcare provider, if your circumstances change, such as you get a new job or stop claiming benefits, you do not need to re-check your eligibility.

Once your child is taking up their free hours, they can continue to do so until the funding period after they turn three when they can move on to 15 free hours of early education for 3 and 4-year-olds which all children are eligible for.

Where can I get a free place?

You have a choice as to where your child takes up their free place, including with.

  • Preschools

  • Day nurseries

  • Childminders

To find providers which offer free places for 2-year-olds, simply:

1) search for your post code in the search box above

2) select the results for Family Services Directory

3) scroll down and check the box for free early education for 2-year-olds

This will give you a listing of all providers of free places for 2-year-olds, ordered by distance from your postcode. Simply contact a provider that interests you to find out what they can offer.

When you have chosen a provider, give them your eligibility code so they can confirm your place.

You can split the free hours between providers, but not at more than two sites in any one day.

What hours and days are available?

Early education sessions can offered flexibly between 6am and 8pm and can be no longer than 10 hours in one day. Providers are encouraged to offer the free hours flexibly.

Providers must publish the days and times they offer free early education hours. For example, they may be open from 8am to 6pm, but only offer free hours between 9 am and 5pm

You can use your hours all year round and at the weekend if your childcare provider offers this. You can also use more than one provider, although not more than two sites in one day. The places are offered over a minimum of 38 weeks per year.

Some providers offer places over more than 38 weeks, so parents would get fewer hours each week for more weeks of the year. For example, a 15 hour place across 52 weeks of the year is just under 11 hours a week.

You do not have to take up all of your 15 hours. You will need to discuss your needs with the early education provider or providers you choose to see if they can accommodate a different number of hours for you.

Are there any costs involved?

Early education is funded by the Government and is therefore free to parents.

Parents should expect to pay for additional services over and above the free early education, such as meals and snacks, nappies, sun cream, day trips or activities such as yoga classes.

You will be required to pay for any additional hours over and above the 15 free hours.

You may also be asked for a deposit to secure your place. This should be returned to you within a couple of months of your child taking up their place.  

Can I get help with paying for additional hours?

If you need more childcare than the free hours for your 2-year-old provide, there are ways you may be able to reduce the cost of this. One of the schemes below can be used with your free hours and also to help with the costs of childcare for other children you may have.

Tax-Free Childcare

For some working families, this provides up to £2,000 per child per year and can be used to help pay for care for children aged 0 to 11.

Universal Credit for childcare

This allows some working families to claim back up to 85% of childcare costs for children aged 0 to 15

Tax Credits for childcare

This allows some working families to claim back up to 70% of childcare costs for children aged to 15

For more information and to apply, visit the Childcare Choices website

If you get childcare vouchers through a scheme run by your employer, you can use these instead of one of the above schemes to help pay for the additional hours. (Note that voucher schemes were closed to new applicants following the introduction of Tax-Free Childcare)

Watch a short film - families share their experiences of free childcare


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Page last reviewed: 27/03/2024

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