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15 hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds


15 hours free childcare is available for all children - from the school term after their third birthday, until they start school.

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Did you know that even if you have never used childcare before, or if your own nursery or childminder is closed, there are many across the county who are happy to take your children if you are a key worker? This can be a temporary move while your usual provider is closed.

As part of our commitment to helping key workers, we have made extra resources available and have a dedicated team to help you find childcare.

If you normally receive funding such as the free early education entitlement at 15 or 30 hours childcare costs, this stays with your usual provider, but we are also providing additional funding to any setting you transfer to so that any costs that funding usually covers are not passed on to you.

You can look for childcare providers at Families Information Service (FIS) or email the Early Years team who will explore your options with you.

Children can attend on a part-time basis for 15 hours a week, for 38 weeks of the year. This equals 570 hours and can be taken as follows:

  • Flexibly over a minimum of two days per week (no more than ten hours per day).
  • Shared between two childcare providers.
  • Stretched over more than 38 weeks (up to 52 weeks) - using less hours per week.

When your child can start

Your child is entitled to this childcare, from the start of the term following their 3rd birthday until they start school.

Child's third birthdayYour child's place will begin
September - DecemberJanuary
January - MarchApril
April - AugustSeptember

Who provides this childcare

How to apply

If you are already using childcare, speak to them directly to apply. If you are not using childcare (or you wish to change), contact the nursery, pre-school playgroup or childminder that you'd like to use to:

  • check if they have spaces
  • see how flexible they are with the 15 free hours

Waiting lists

You can place your child's name on a waiting list for our nursery schools at the beginning of the school year (1st September to 31 August) in which your child has his or her second birthday.

What isn't covered

Certain items may not be included, for example:

  • meals
  • nappies
  • sun cream
  • additional hours
  • additional activities (such as trips).

Childcare providers may charge a fee for these. If you choose to pay for these it is an arrangement between you and the childcare provider.

However, you must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 15 hours place, and must be offered alternative options (for example, providing your own food or nappies).

Contact us
Childcare places
03000 268 913
Our address is:
  • Childcare Places
  • Durham County Council
  • County Hall
  • Durham
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH1 5UJ
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