This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Some disadvantaged two-year-olds are entitled to 570 hours of Government funded childcare a year. This is often taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year and is commonly referred to as “15 hours of free childcare.” However, the entitlement can also be stretched over more than 38 weeks if the childcare provider agrees (eg 11 hours a week for 52 weeks of the year).
The free hours must be used with an approved childcare provider. This means they must be registered with Ofsted or with a registered childminder agency.
A separate casework page provides information on the entitlements to free childcare for three and four-year-olds.
Which two-year-olds are eligible?
A two-year-old is eligible for 15 hours of free childcare if they live in a household in receipt of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Universal Credit (where household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments)
- the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit (or both), and the household’s income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment a person gets when they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
They can also be eligible if they:
- Are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance
- Are looked after by a local authority (in local authority care or provided with accommodation by a local authority for a continuous period of more than 24 hours).
- Are no longer looked after by a local authority as a result of an adoption order, a special guardianship order, or a child arrangements order.
- Have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan.
Eligibility for entitlement begins at the start of the term following the child’s second birthday.
No recourse to public funds
In August 2022 the Government confirmed it would extend eligibility for the two-year-old entitlement to children from families with No recourse to public funds (NRPF). The extension came into effect from 1 September 2022.
To be eligible, households must have an income below:
- £26,500 for families outside London with one child
- £30,600 for families outside London with two more children
- £34,500 for families within London with one child
- £38,600 for families within London with two ore more children
A household is also not eligible if they have over £16,000 in capital (such as savings and investments).
Can the provider charge any additional fees?
The free entitlements must be delivered completely free of charge and providers are not permitted to charge top-up fees (ie, charge parents for the difference between their normal fee and the funding they receive for the free hours).
Childcare providers can charge for lunch and consumables (such as nappies), but parents should be provided with alternative options if they do not want to pay (such as allowing the child to bring in a packed lunch).
Parents may also choose to purchase additional hours on top of the free entitlement hours. Where a parent chooses to do this, they do so at the provider rate, and this is a private matter between the provider and the parent.
Further information is provided in statutory guidance for early education and childcare, published by the Department for Education (paragraphs A1.25-A1.33).
The expansion of free hours
In the Spring 2023 Budget, the Government announced it would be expanding the 30 hours free childcare entitlement. The entitlement would be accessible for working families with children from the age of nine months to the age they start school.
The Government announced it would be rolled out in stages:
- All working parents with two-year-old children will be able to access 15 hours a week from April 2024
- All working parents with children aged nine months to three years will be able to access 15 hours a week from September 2024
- All working parents with children aged nine months to three years can access the full 30 hours free childcare per week from September 2025
The eligibility will match the existing entitlement for 30 hours childcare, which is set out in the Library constituency casework article on childcare for three and four-year-olds.
Further information on the childcare entitlements, and other sources of support with childcare costs, is available in the following source:
- House of Commons Library briefing on Help with childcare costs (England)
- House of Commons Library casework article on childcare support for students (UK)
- The Government’s childcare choices website
- The GOV.UK webpage on Free education and childcare for 2-year-olds
- The Department for Education’s statutory guidance on early education and childcare.
- The Department for Education’s operational guidance for local authorities and providers.