Free early education entitlement

Two year old free entitlement

Each eligible child is entitled to receive a maximum of 15 hours of free early learning per week, over no fewer than 38 weeks per year (totalling 570 hours per year), until the term after they turn three years old. Then they'll become eligible for the universal free entitlement for all three and four year old. The entitlement includes no more than 10 hours per day, between the hours of 6am and 8pm.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) notice: The number of free early education entitlement hours available per week/term may be subject to change if government direct restrictions, or if there are closures of participating early years providers due to COVID-19

Is the two-year-old free entitlement available to all two year old

No. The two-year-old free entitlement is only available to two year old whose parents/carers meet specific eligibility criteria.

Who is eligible for the two-year-old free entitlement

The two-year-old entitlement is available to two-year-old children whose parents/carers receive one or more of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income based Job Seekers’ Allowance
  • Income related Employment and Support Allowance
  • State Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit, and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax
  • Child Tax Credit, and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
  • Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
  • Support through 'part 6' under the Immigration and Asylum Act (NASS support)

Or, children who are either:

  • looked after by the local authority
  • have an Education, Health and Care Plan
  • are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance
  • have left care through special guardianship or an adoption or residence order 

If you’re a non- UK citizen who cannot claim benefits

If your immigration status says you have ‘no recourse to public funds’, you may still qualify for a free early education place for your 2-year-old. You must live in England and your household income must be no more than:

  • £26,500 for families outside of London with one child
  • £34,500 for families within London with one child
  • £30,600 for families outside of London with two or more children
  • £38,600 for families within London with two or more children

You cannot have more than £16,000 in savings or investments.

For more information on applying under these criteria, email us.

How do I apply for the entitlement

You can apply online to check if you're eligible.

If you're eligible, you'll need to take a copy of your confirmation message with your reference number to the participating provider of your choice.

A list of participating providers is available:

If your preferred provider isn't on this list, speak with them to find out if they're offering the entitlement.

When will my child become eligible for the free entitlement

The table below shows when your child will become eligible:

 If your child is born between

They become eligible for a free place from

 1 April and 31 August

The first September following their second birthday until statutory school age

 1 September and 31 December

The first January following their second birthday until statutory school age

 1 January and 31 March

The first April following their second birthday until statutory school age

When can my child access their free place

You should secure your free place with the provider of your choice before the start of the term you'd like your child to start.

For example: if you want your child to start at the:

  • beginning of September - you should secure your free place between April and August
  • beginning of January - you should secure your free place between September and December
  • beginning of April - you should secure your free place between January and March

You should ask your chosen participating provider about the hours they can offer and when you can access them.

Is there a deadline for accessing my child’s free place?

Yes, you must have secured and started your free place before the termly headcount date. Please ask your childcare provider when these dates are.

Can I lose my eligibility

No. If your circumstances change, your child can continue to receive their two-year-old free place until the term after they turn three years old.

Who pays for the free early education entitlement

Participating providers claim the cost of the entitlement directly from Southwark Council. There's no money passed to parents/carers.

Will parents be charged for the two-year-old free entitlement

Providers cannot charge parents for any part of the 15 hours free entitlement, but they may charge you a refundable deposit to secure your childcare place.

If you use your provider for more than 15 hours per week, you're responsible for paying for the cost of these additional hours. You'll also need to check with your provider if they charge for any additional extras, such as snacks, meals or outings etc.

Can I use more than one early education provider

It's possible to split your place between two providers (except for schools), as long as the total number of free hours doesn't exceed the entitlement. However, this option is only available if the provider is able to accommodate you in this way. You'll also need to inform both providers of where you've taken up a split place.

I live in Southwark, can my child go to a provider in another borough

Yes. If you live in Southwark but want your child to go to a setting in another borough, your chosen provider will be responsible for claiming the cost of your free place from their own local authority. You should speak with the childcare provider of your choice to check if they're offering the free entitlement.

Page last updated: 14 September 2022

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