Deadline approaching to apply for free childcare in England

Deadline approaching to apply for free childcare in England

Parents in England must apply for free childcare for two year olds by 31 March 2024.

The deadline for working parents in England who want to apply for 15 hours of free childcare per week for their two-year-olds is 31 March. The Government’s aim is that extending free childcare to this age group from April 2024 – and to all under-5s in 2025 – will get more parents back to work.

What free childcare can I get?

Some free hours or childcare are currently available in England, however there are additional free hours being rolled out in stages depending on the age of your child, and whether you are working, or receiving certain benefits.

Working parents in England can get:

  • 15 hours free childcare a week for two-year-olds from April 2024
  • 15 hours free childcare a week for nine month olds from September 2024
  • 30 hours free childcare a week for three and four-year-olds  (available now)
  • 30 hours free childcare a week for all under-5s from September 2025

To qualify for the new hours, the majority of parents must earn more than £8,670 (rising to £9,518 in April 2024), but less than £100,000 per year.

If you don’t work, but are on qualifying benefits you can already get:

  • 15 hours free childcare a week for two-year-olds
  • 15 hours free childcare a week for three and four-year-olds

If your partner works and you receive certain benefits you may still be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare. More information and the elibility criteria are available here.

How do working parents apply for free childcare hours?

The deadline to get free hours for two-year-olds in the spring term is 31 March. If you miss it you won’t be able to start using free hours from April. You can check your eligibility and apply here.

Applications for parents of nine-month-olds open on 12 May for the September term. Parents are advised to apply as soon as possible in all instances.

Once approved, you’ll get a code to give to your officially-registered childcare provider. Free childcare hours are designed to be used over 38 weeks of the year – during school term time.

However, some providers will stretch them over 52 weeks if you use fewer hours per week. The government website Childcare Choices has details of the deadlines to apply for each age group

What isn’t covered by the free childcare hours?

In many cases the ‘free’ childcare hours may not cover all the hours of childcare you need or there may be additional cost associated with the ‘free’ hours, such as meals, nappies, sun cream or trips. Parents will have to pay for additional ‘non-funded’ childcare hours that they may need.

The Department for Education says all additional costs are voluntary, and parents should be told they can supply their own food and supplies, to make their ‘free’ hours of childcare entirely free.

Please note – the above information applies to families in England only, there are different schemes available in Scotland and Wales. There is currently no free childcare available in Northern Ireland however you may be able to access other forms of support, more information available here.

What other financial help can parents get for childcare costs?

Parents may be entitled to other support, such as Universal Credit or Tax-Free Childcare.

Parents who qualify for free childcare hours can also use these forms of support to help with the cost of any additional hours they have to pay for.

For further information on the forms of support available towards the cost of childcare, contact the Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200 or email