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Childcare vouchers explained

Free childcare

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Free childcare

In this expert guide, find out how you can get up to 15-30 hours a week of free nursery education for your child before they start school.


If your child is three or older but hasn’t started school yet, they can get up to 15 hours a week of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year.

When can my child get free childcare?

All three to four-year-olds in England can get the 15 hours a week free childcare allowance.

You can start claiming this free benefit for your child starting from the first term following their third birthday.

You can claim the free nursery education until your child is old enough to go to school (the term following their fifth birthday). It can take place in a nursery, playgroup, preschool or at their childminder's house.

Some two-year-olds are also eligible for 15 hours of free nursery care. In order to claim outside of the universal allowance for three and four-year-olds, you must be getting one of the following:

  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • Child tax credit and/or working tax credit and have an annual income under £16,190
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • The working tax credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for working tax credit)
  • Universal Credit

From 2017, the free childcare allowance will be doubled from 15 hours to 30 hours a week for working families with three and four-year-olds. The change will be implemented early in certain areas from September 2016, with full roll-out in September 2017. But not everyone will be eligible. To qualify for the extra 15 hours' free childcare, you'll need:

  • a child aged three to four in September 2016
  • to be working parents (or a sole parent working in a lone-parent family) where each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum wage equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage.
  • to have an annual income of less than £100,000
  • to live in England.

There will be a function on HMRC online that will let you check your eligibility for the extended allowance.

How to get free childcare

To find out where you can get free childcare in your area, use the Family and Childcare Trust childcare finder.

If you want to find out which childcare providers in your area are recommended by Which? members, visit Which? Local – our local services reviews site.