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Free early education and childcare for 3 & 4 year olds


Funded early education and childcare for 3 and 4 year olds

In England all three and four year olds are entitled to up to 15 hours of funded early education and childcare a week for up to 38 weeks a year. This is to give children the opportunity to take part in planned learning activities, and help prepare them for school through the early learning goals set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage. This is a universal offer and is available to all children regardless of their family circumstances.

Since September 2017 the government have increased the number of funded hours for 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 30 a week. However, this will only be made available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum wage (NMW) or National Living wage (NLW), and less than £100,000 per year. You can find further information about the eligibility criteria on our 30 hours funded childcare for working parents web page.

Below is a list of our most frequently asked questions about the universal offer.

When will my child be eligible to receive funded early education?

Children become eligible to receive the funding from the start of the funded period following their third birthday. These periods are set by the Department of Education rather than following school term dates.

Child born between Can have a funded place from
1 September 2018 to 31 December 2018 January 2022 (Spring)
1 January 2019 to 31 March 2019 April 2022 (Summer)
1 April 2019 to 31 August 2019 September 2022 (Autumn)
1 September 2019 to 31 December 2019 January 2023 (Spring)

Your child can continue to receive the funded hours until they start reception class at a local authority maintained school. This will usually be the September following their fourth birthday.

However, if you choose to defer their school start date or they start at a non maintained (independent) school they can continue to receive the funding until they reach statutory school age, which is the funded period after their fifth birthday.

Please note: If your child has a delayed start to their school place during the autumn funded period they cannot claim their funded entitlement. This is because the school will receive the funding from the beginning of the funded period, even if they are only attending part time.

When can my child use the funded hours?

Children are entitled to a maximum of 570 hours per year. These will usually be offered as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks a year. However, the funded early education hours may only be available within set times and sessions so you will need to speak to your childcare provider to see if the hours they offer suit your needs.

However, you won't be able to:

  • have any time before 6am or after 8pm
  • have a session longer than 10 hours
  • claim more than 15 hours a week
  • claim more than 570 hours per year
  • use the funding at more than two sites in one day

Some childcare providers may be able to stretch the hours throughout the year rather than just during term time so for example you could receive 10.96 hours per week for a maximum of 52 weeks a year. If this would suit you better speak to the childcare provider to see if they are able to offer you a more flexible option.

However, once your child starts at a childcare provider they will have to continue claiming either term time or stretched hours until the funded period after their next birthday to ensure they do not exceed the maximum of hours.

How can I claim funded early education?

You will not be able to claim directly. Childcare providers registered on The Surrey Directory of Early Years Providers, who have agreed to follow the Surrey County Council Provider Agreement, will be able to claim it on your behalf. These include pre school playgroupsday nurseriesnursery units of independent schools schools and childminders.

Alternatively you can claim funded hours through a maintained nursery school or class attached to a Local Education Authority (LEA) school. If they offer less than 15 hours you may be able to claim the balance with another childcare provider.

How can I find a childcare provider offering the funded hours?

You can find details of childcare providers who offer funded early education in Surrey on our Childcare Finder. Just enter your location or postcode and scroll down to select Yes to 'Registered for Funded Early Education for 3 and 4 year olds' on the right hand side.

Our Choosing childcare booklet has information and advice on how to find and pay for childcare. You might also like to have a look at our At my childminder's photobook for real life snapshots of how children in the care of a childminder might spend their time.

Will my childcare provider ask me to sign any forms?

Your childcare provider will ask you to complete a Surrey County Council Declaration form to enable them to claim your funded hours. You will need to complete a new form at the start of each funded period. You should read the Parent or legal guardian declaration on the form carefully before signing as this forms a legal contract between you and the childcare provider.

The first funded period you attend your childcare provider will also check your child's birth certificate or passport as proof of identity and eligibility. You may also be asked to provide some information to see if your family meet the criteria for the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP). This scheme provides additional government funding for childcare providers to improve the education they provide for eligible 3 and 4 year olds receiving funded early education.

If your child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance you may also be asked to complete a Disability Access Fund form (Word) so your childcare provider can claim funding to help support your child at their setting.

Can I claim the funded hours at more than one childcare provider?

Yes, you can choose to take up the funded hours with more than one childcare provider if this suits you better. So, for example, your child could have 9 hours in a pre school playgroup and 6 hours with a childminder.

However, if you split the hours between a childcare provider who offers term time and one who offers stretched it is unlikely that you will be able to claim the full 570 hours.

Can I move my funding to a new childcare provider once the funded period has started?

You can only move the funding to a new childcare provider if:

  • you move house and it's now too far to travel to your current childcare provider
  • you change jobs and the hours your childcare provider offers no longer meet your childcare needs
  • you have stated on your Surrey County Council Declaration form that your child will be leaving during the funded period and you specify the last day that you wish the childcare provider to claim the funded hours for you
  • your childcare provider gets an inadequate outcome in their latest Ofsted inspection
  • your current childcare provider has closed or has been suspended by Ofsted.

Please note: You may still need to give your childcare provider the required notice period stated in your contract with them.

Do I need to pay anything towards a funded place?

Childcare providers are not allowed to charge parents a 'top-up' fee (the difference between their usual fee and the funding they receive from the local authority to deliver funded places) as per section 12 of Surrey's Provider Agreement 2018-19 (see files available to download below).

However, they can set the times that they offer the funded hours. This means, for example, three hours of funded early education could sit within a three and a half hour session. So, because you would essentially be taking time outside of the funded hours, a childcare provider could charge for this additional time, even if less than 15 hours a week is being used. They can also set their own rates for any additional time or extra services including snacks and/or lunch and should let you know in advance what you will be expected to pay.

You should receive an invoice from your childcare provider at least once each funded period clearly showing what you are being asked to pay for. If you think that you are being charged for your child's funded early education hours or are being invoiced incorrectly you should speak to your childcare provider in the first instance. If you are still unsure then you could contact us and we can ask the team who administer the funding to check your invoice.

Will claiming the funded hours affect my tax credits or benefits?

Claiming funded early education for 3 and 4 year olds does not affect benefits, but if you are using the childcare element of Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit you can only claim for any childcare over and above the 15 hours. If you were using the childcare element before claiming funded early education and you do not change your hours you may need to contact HMRC so they can adjust their payments to you. They can be contacted on 0345 300 3900.

We have just moved to England and my child is not a British citizen, will they be entitled to claim funded early education?

Yes, a child moving to England from another country is entitled to the universal 15 hours of funded early education on the same basis as any other child, regardless of whether they have British citizenship or you have been told you have no recourse to public funds.