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Free early education entitlement

Universal free early education entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds

Each child is entitled to receive a maximum of 15 hours per week, over no fewer than 38 weeks per year (totalling 570 hours per year). The entitlement can be taken over no more than ten 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

How do I apply for the universal free early education entitlement

Your early education provider can apply for the universal free entitlement on your behalf directly from the local authority. A list of participating providers is available here:

If your preferred provider isn't on this list, contact 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 can access a free place from

 1 April and 31 August

First September following their third birthday until statutory school age

 1 September and 31 December

First January following their third birthday until statutory school age

 1 January and 31 March

First April following their third 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 contact the provider of your choice and find out 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.

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 free early education entitlement

Providers cannot charge parents for any part of the 15-hour 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'll be responsible 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.

Can my child access the free entitlement if they have just moved to England from another country

Children moving to England from other countries are entitled to access the free early education entitlement on the same basis as any other child, regardless of whether they have British citizenship.

Page last updated: 07 September 2023


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