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Free early education entitlement

15 hours universal free entitlement for 3 and 4-year-olds

All 3 to 4-year-olds in England can receive up to a maximum of 15 free childcare hours per week, over no fewer than 38 weeks per year (totalling 570 hours per year).

The free entitlement:

  • can be taken over no more than ten hours per day, between the hours of 6am and 8pm
  • starts from the term after your child’s 3rd birthday
  • stops when your child starts reception class (or reaches compulsory school age, if later)

When will my child become eligible for the free entitlement?

The table below shows when your child will become eligible:

A child born on or between

Is eligible for a free place from

1 April and 31 August

September following their third birthday

1 September and 31 December

January following their third birthday

1 January and 31 March

April following their third birthday

Where can I use my free entitlement?

The free entitlement can be used at any Southwark approved childcare provider, which can be at day nurseries, preschools or childminders, independent schools and nursery classes in primary schools.

A list of Southwark approved providers is available to download:

How do I claim my free entitlement?

You should secure your free place with the provider of your choice in good time, before the start of the term you'd like your child to start.  Your childcare provider will claim the cost of your child’s free entitlement place directly from Southwark Council. No money is passed to parents/carers.

Is there a deadline for when my child can start their free place?

Yes. Your child must be registered and have started their place at your chosen provider before the termly free entitlement headcount date.  Please ask your childcare provider when this date is.

Will I be charged any fees?

Providers cannot charge parents for any part of the 15-hour free entitlement, but you may have to pay for extra costs like additional childcare hours, meals, nappies or trips.  They may also charge you a refundable deposit to secure your childcare place.

Can I use more than one childcare provider?

It's possible to split your place between two providers, as long as the total number of free hours doesn't exceed the entitlement per term.  However, this option is only available if the provider can 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 provider in another borough, your chosen provider will be responsible for claiming the cost of your free place from their own local authority.  However, you should first check if they're offering the free entitlement.

Page last updated: 13 March 2024

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