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30 hours free childcare for three and four year olds

If you work, you may be able to claim 30 hours free childcare for your three and four year olds. This is an additional 15 hours of childcare on top of the 15 hours that everyone receives.

Visit Childcare Choices to see if you are eligible and apply online.

Am I eligible?

You are eligible if:

  • You or your partner each earn (on average) at least £167 per week (the national minimum wage or living wage for 16 hours a week on average).
  • You or your partner are on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or you're unable to work because you are disabled or have caring responsibilities.
  • The parent of the child (and their partner where applicable) should be seeking the free entitlement to enable them to work.
  • The parent of the child (and their partner where applicable) should also be in qualifying paid work. Each parent or the single parent in a lone parent household will need to expect to earn the equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage or their national minimum wage rate over the forthcoming quarter.
  • Where one or both parents are in receipt of benefits in connection with sickness or parenting they are treated as though they are in paid work
  • Where one parent (in a couple household) is in receipt or could be entitled to be in receipt of specific benefits related to caring, incapacity for work or limited capability for work that they are treated as though they are in paid work.
  • Where a parent is in a 'start-up period' (i.e. they are newly self-employed) they do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months in order to qualify for the extended entitlement
  • Children in Foster Care

You are not eligible if:

  • Either you, or your partner, each earn £100,000 or more.
  • Your child does not usually live with you.
  • You're from a non European Economic Area (EEA) and your UK residence card says you cannot access public funds.

For more information and to see if you are eligible, visit Childcare Choices.

When your child can start

If you qualify, your child will claim this from the same time as they would for 3/4 year old nursery places (15 hours).

Who provides this childcare

How to apply

Visit Childcare Choices to see if you are eligible and apply online.

When you apply you are given an 11 digit eligibility code. Take this code to your chosen childcare provider. You will also need to give them:

  • the National Insurance number of the person who registered online
  • your child's date of birth

When to apply

Parents or Carers will need to apply for their 30 hour eligibility code for their child through Childcare Choices during the term prior to their child becoming eligible on date of birth to access a 3 year old nursery place. You must have a valid code by the end of the month before a new term starts otherwise you will not be eligible to access a 30-hour place until the beginning of the following term.

When your child turns 3When they can get 30 hours fromHMRC recommended dates to apply
1 September to 31 DecemberTerm starting on or after 1 January15 October to 30 November
1 January to 31 MarchTerm starting on or after 1 April15 January to 28 February
1 April to 31 AugustTerm starting on or after 1 September15 June to 31 July

You must have a 30-hour eligibility code by the end of the month before the new term starts.

Re-confirm that you are eligible

You must reconfirm that you are eligible to receive 30 hours free childcare every three months from the date you applied - if you do not you will lose it. You must do this, even if your child hasn't started their 30 hours place

A reminder will be sent to you by HMRC by text and/or email.

Login to your childcare account ( to reconfirm your eligibility.

The Grace Period

The government has introduced a "grace period" to enable parents to retain their childcare place for a short period should they become ineligible for the extended entitlement (30 hours funded childcare offer).  

This will allow continuity for the child and also give the parent sometime to regain employment. Early years and childcare providers can also be assured that if they offer the extended entitlement, they will not run the risk of having an empty place immediately should the parents circumstances change.

A child will enter "the grace period" when the child's parents cease to meet the eligibility criteria to receive the extended entitlement. 

The table below shows the grace period end dates:

Date parent receives ineligible decision on reconfirmationGrace period end date
1 January - 10 February31 March
11 February - 31 March31 August
1 April - 26 May31 August
27 May - 31 August31 December
1 September - 21 October31 December
22 October - 31 December31 March

What you can and cannot be charged for when using funded childcare

The DfE state that all parents who are eligible should be able to access a funded childcare place, which must be delivered completely free of charge. This is set out in paragraph A1.30 of the current statutory guidance and A1.33 of the updated statutory guidance applicable from 1 April 2024.

What is allowed - consumables and additions:

  • Government funding is intended to deliver 15 or 30 hours a week of free, high quality, flexible childcare. It is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables, additional hours or additional services. Providers can charge for meals and snacks as part of a free entitlement place and they can also charge for consumables, such as nappies or sun cream, and for additional services such as trips and specialist tuition. (Paragraph A1.30 of the statutory guidance).
  • If a parent is unable to pay for consumables, or if a parent wishes to provide their own, then the parent and provider can discuss alternative options. This could include allowing parents to supply their own meals or nappies, or waiving or reducing the cost of meals and snacks.
  • Charges for consumables or additional services should not be made a condition of accessing a free place. (As set out in paragraph A1.33 of the guidance.)

What is not allowed:

  • Councils should ensure that providers do not charge parents "top-up" fees (any difference between a provider's normal charge to parents and the funding they receive from the council to deliver free places).
  • Core costs of running a business that delivers government-funded childcare are not consumables used by the child or additional services provided to the child. These include, but are not limited to, insurance, Ofsted registration, maintenance, business rates, training costs, rent and energy bills. These are core costs of running a business and parents should not be charged.

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