Free childcare for 2, 3 or 4 year olds

All parents of 3 and 4 year old children are able to claim free childcare entitlement for their children.
Parents of 2 year old children may also be able to claim free childcare depending on their situation and the needs of their child.

Please choose one of the options below to find out more information on free childcare:

If you receive financial support you could be eligible for free childcare for your child when they turn 2. (Children looked after by the local authority automatically qualify for this childcare).

How do I apply for free childcare for my 2 year old?

To find out if you qualify, please use the online eligibility checker below:

Find out if you qualify

What happens if my child is eligible?

If your child is eligible, the online eligibility checker will give you a reference number which remains active for six weeks. It must be checked by a childcare provider within six weeks of issue and being reserved a place, even if your child cannot start straight away.

If the reference number is not checked within six weeks, it will expire and you will need to use the eligibility checker again to obtain another valid reference number.

Where can my child take up their free childcare?

You can use the free childcare at any good or outstanding OFSTED registered childcare provider or childminder.

To find a list of childcare providers and childminders please view our Children and families service finder.

Search for a childcare provider

Find out more about choosing the right childcare provider.

When can my child start?

To find out when your child would be able to start a 2 year funded place, use the start calculator document below:

How many free hours does my child get?

Every eligible child is entitled to access a maximum of 570 hours of free childcare for 2 year olds. This is split into three funding blocks in the year following the child’s 2nd birthday, on the following basis:

  • A maximum of 15 hours per week over a minimum of 2 days per week
  • A maximum of 10 hours in a single day
  • A minimum of 2½ continuous hours in any one day
  • Take all or part of their free childcare and education for 2 year olds at a single setting or a maximum of two settings (including maintained sector schools)

Is there any other way my child can qualify?

Your child may also eligible if they:

  • are under a child protection plan (Section 47)
  • are a child in need (Section 17)
  • have higher special needs and disabilities (SEND), as evidenced by the early years descriptors and high needs block.
  • are subject to a Special Guardianship Order, child arrangement or adoption order.
  • have had an Early Help Assessment (EHA)

If you think your child meets one of the above criteria, you will need to speak with the professional working with your family and ask them to make a referral. Parents and carers cannot make a self-referral.

All 3 and 4 year olds can receive up to 570 hours a year of childcare. This is spread across three funding blocks, with a maximum of 15 hours a week.

When can I take up a place for my child?

Children qualify for the first full funding block of childcare following their 3rd birthday.

The three blocks are:

  • 1 September to 31 December
  • 1 January to 31 March
  • 1 April to 31 August

To find out when the free childcare will start for your child, just enter your child's birth month and year into the start calculator below:

How do I claim my free childcare?

To claim your free childcare please speak to your chosen childcare provider who can help.

Childcare providers can not charge for these FREE hours. Find out more about choosing the right childcare provider.  

Where can my child take up their childcare?

You can access the free entitlement at most OFSTED registered childcare providers. These include:

  • Private day nurseries
  • Pre-school playgroups
  • Maintained nurseries (nurseries attached to a school) 
  • Childminders and childminder agencies
  • Independent schools

Details of all childcare providers can be found on the Children and families service finder.

Search for a childcare provider

Can I use more than one childcare provider?

You may choose for your child to take all or part of their free entitlement at a maximum of two childcare providers.

What if I don’t want to use the free childcare straight away?

Not all parents choose to start their free entitlement as soon as they qualify. It may be that you choose to start a few weeks into the term. Your child is still entitled to free entitlement regardless of when you choose to start in the term, provided:

  • The childcare provider you have chosen has a vacancy
  • The vacancy that is available does not require the childcare provider to employ another member of staff - additional children would exceed the amount of children they are allowed to have as set by OFSTED in the OFSTED ratios.
  • The childcare provider has no information conditions written into their admissions policy or terms and conditions to state that they will not admit funded children after the headcount day has passed.

Any questions?

If you require assistance regarding the free entitlement, please do not hesitate to contact us at:

What is the Early Years Pupil Premium?

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is additional funding available for investment in improving outcomes for children. It is used to improve the facilities, equipment and learning experiences to benefit the growth and development of your child.

Can I claim the Early Years Pupil Premium?

Children who are currently claiming the free entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds in Northamptonshire, could be eligible for the EYPP if:

  • They are 3 or 4 years old and receiving free entitlement in any OFSTED registered childcare provider and their parents are in receipt of one or more of the benefits used to access eligibility for free school meals

or they have:

  • been looked after by Northamptonshire County Council for at least one day
  • been adopted from care in Northamptonshire
  • left care through special guardianship; and subject to a child arrangement order setting out with whom the child is to live (formerly known as residence orders) in Northamptonshire

How can I check if my child qualifies for the Early Years Pupil Premium?

You can check your child's eligibility by using the form below:

Find out if your child qualifies

You will need to complete questions and submit your check. You will be given a decision immediately along with a reference number.

How do I receive the pupil premium?

The EYPP is paid directly to your childcare provider as part of their normal funding claim.

You will need to give the reference number to them so they can claim for the funding.

What type of childcare provider is eligible to receive the premium?

Any OFSTED registered childcare provider can claim the premium if you: 

  • use their service for the free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and
  • give the childcare provider your reference number

Find out more information about the Early Years Pupil Premium

To find out more about the Early Years Pupil Premium you can either talk to your childcare provider.

Or you can email

From September 2017 the government has committed to increasing the free childcare offer from 15 hours to 30 hours a week for families that are eligible.  Currently all families are entitled to 15 hours free child care for 15 hours per week for their 3 and 4 year olds.  The purpose of the increased childcare is to support working parents with childcare costs.

Eligibility for the 30 hours extended entitlement

Initially children must be 3 or 4 years old by 31st August 2017 and subsequently children will be eligible the term after their 3rd birthday.   The additional hours will be available to families where:

  • Both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family); 'Both parents are working' includes circumstances where;
    • One or both parents are temporarily away from the workplace on parental, adoption, maternity or paternity leave;
    • One or both parents are temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick pay;
    • One parent is employed and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring; or
    • One parent is employed and one parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits.
  • Each parent has a weekly minimum income equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage; (parents do not necessarily need to actually work 16 hours a week, but rather their earnings must reflect at least 16 hours of work at national minimum wage or national living wage, which is £107 a week at the current national minimum wage rate)
  • Neither parent has an income of more than £100,000 per year.
  • Parents must live in England
  • If unemployed, both parents must become employed within 14 days of applying unless one of the above applies
  • Once your child is attending school, they are no longer eligible for free childcare including this offer

If you are a sole parent then all the conditions above just apply to you.

Circumstances where you may still be eligible

You can still apply for 30 hours free childcare if you or your partner are:

  • temporarily away from England for a period of up to 6 months, such as if you're in the military (on duty)
  • already getting Universal Credit or tax credits

You can also still apply for 30 hours free childcare if either you or your partner are employed or self-employed and one of you gets one or more of the following benefits:

  • contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Carer's Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit or long-term Incapacity Benefit
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • National Insurance credits because of incapacity or limited capability for work
  • You have been assessed as having limited capability for work for Universal Credit purpose

To check eligibility for 30 Hours Free Childcare, please visit

What types of childcare you can use?

This entitlement can only be used with registered childcare providers registered to access Northamptonshire County Council early education funding. This includes:

  • Childminder
  • Pre-Schools, Play Groups and Nurseries
  • Out Of School Clubs

This includes early education and childcare provision run by schools.
It is possible to use funding at more than one childcare provider, for example;

  • a nursery and a childminder
  • two nurseries/pre-schools
  • a pre-school and an after-school club

Some providers may not be able to offer 30 hours, for example due to places available or their opening times. It is important to check your chosen provider offers the hours you require.
It is also possible to use your entitlement in various patterns to best suit your families’ needs. For example it may suit you to make use of a ‘stretched offer ‘of just under 23 hours per week over 50 weeks instead of 30 hours over 38 weeks which is the minimum offer.

How will eligibility be checked?

Once the system is operational there will be a simple online eligibility checker similar to that currently used to check eligibility for funded hours for 2 year olds. Parents will then have to reconfirm their eligibility on a three-monthly basis. If their circumstances alter and they are no longer eligible then there will be a short grace period before the child’s funding ends in order to help the child, family and provider to manage the change. At this moment the length of this grace period has not yet been confirmed by the Department for Education (DfE)

If you experience any issues with your eligibility, please contact HMRC on 0300 123 4097.

Other sources of support

Working tax credits - If you are in work or self-employed,​ you may be able to claim tax support to help towards childcare costs.
Care to Learn - If you are under 20 years old and in education, the Care to Learn scheme can help with childcare costs whilst you study.

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