Free early education and childcare for 2-year-olds - Expansion. From April 2024

2-year-olds whose parents are working may be able to get up to 15 hours a week of free early education and childcare from April 2024

From January 2024 you will be able to apply for your eligibility code. If eligbile you will be able to access your free early education and childcare entitlement from April 2024.

Parents must receive their eligibility code before the 31 March to be able to access this entitlement.  

Check your eligibility in good time to make sure you don't miss out using this online childcare support checker.

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

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 Expanded Early Education and Childcare for two year olds. Please read the information below to see if you meet the eligibility criteria.

To be eligible for the extended early education and childcare your family must meet all the following criteria: 

  • your child's age means they are eligible for the first 15 hours (the universal entitlement) 

  • both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) 

  • both parents earn or expect to earn a minimum equivalent to 16 hours a week at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months. 

  • both parents must not be earning more than £100,000 a year each 

This applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on a zero hours contract 

The national minimum wage criteria equates to £120 a week (or £6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 a week (or £5,800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old. 

There are exceptions to both parents having to work. Families where one or both parents do not work will not usually be entitled to the additional 15 hours of free childcare. However, they will be eligible where: 

  • both parents are employed but one (or both parents) is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity leave, adoption leave or on statutory sick pay 

  • one parent is employed and one parent: 

  • has substantial caring responsibilities based on receipt of specific caring benefits, or 

  • is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits 

If you meet the criteria above, you need to check your eligibility and get an eligibility code to be able to take up the additional free hours. 

To find out more and to check your eligibility visit

How to apply for the expanded early education and childcare for 2-year-olds

Please note- the childcare service is not yet open for applications. 

Eligible parents will be able to apply for the expanded early education and  childcare entitlement for 2 year old  in Early 2024.  

 Before you apply, you must check if you meet the eligibility criteria 

If you think you meet the criteria, you will need the following to hand when you apply  (for both you and your partner, unless you are a sole parent) 

  • your National Insurance number 

  • if you are self-employed, yourUnique Taxpayer Reference / tax reference (Your UTR is on notices to file a tax return or payment reminders sent to you by HM Revenue and Customs). 

  • the date you started, or are due to start work 

  • details of any other government support you get 

You must apply via the Governments online application system: the Childcare Service.  

If eligible, once you have applied you will receive confirmation of your eligibility in your Childcare Service Account which will include your child’s unique 11 digit eligibility code. 

If you have any difficulties when checking your eligibility, please call the Childcare Service Helpline on 0300 123 4097   

IMPORTANT: You must check if you are eligible and receive your eligibility code in the funding period before your child becomes eligible for a place. You can apply outside the times recommended below, but you might not receive your code in time.  

 Recommended time to apply: 

 Have received your eligibility code by:  

 Able to start in a place from:      

15 January to 28 February  

 31 March 

1 April 

15 June to 31 July 

 31 August 

1 September 

15 October to 30 November 

31 December 

1 January 

You will also need to reconfirm your eligibility every 3 months. If you apply more than 3 months before the new funding period starts, you'll have to reconfirm your eligibility before your child can take up a place. 

How do I claim my early education and childcare entitlement

Once you have successfully applied, you will receive confirmation of your eligibility to your Childcare Service account including your child's unique 11 digit eligibility code. 

You will need to give your code to your chosen provider. 

Remember, your provider can only give you Expanded entitlement hours in the funding period AFTER you have applied for and received your code. For example, to be eligible to start in a place in the funding period of September to December, your child must have turned two before 31 August and you must have applied for and received your code by 31 August. If you have not applied for and received your code by 31 August, your child will not be able to start in a place until January. 

You can search for providers on the Family Services Directory 

Your chosen provider will complete a Parent Funding Agreement with you to confirm the place. 

Your eligibility code must be validated by your chosen provider before you take up a place. So that they can do this, you must need to provide them with: 

  • A printout or screenshot of your confirmation of eligibility from your Childcare Service account with your 11 digit eligibility code for your child 

  • Your national insurance number 

  • Proof of your child's date of birth (e.g. birth certificate or passport) 

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)


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Page last reviewed: 27/03/2024

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