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Free early education entitlement

The working parent entitlement for 2, 3 and 4 year olds

You must live in England to apply for free childcare. The amount of free childcare you can get depends on:

  • your child’s age and circumstances
  • whether you’re working (employed, self-employed, or a director)
  • your income (and your partner’s income, if you have one)
  • your immigration status

The number of hours per week of free childcare you can get depends on the age of your child. If your child is:

  • 2 years old, you can get 15 hours free childcare over no fewer than 38 weeks per year (maximum of 570 hours per year), from the term after their 2nd birthday
  • 3 to 4 years old, you can get 30 hours free childcare over no fewer than 38 weeks per year (maximum of 1140 hours per year), from the term after their 3rd birthday

You will not be eligible if your child does not usually live with you.

The entitlement can be taken over no more than 10 hours per day, between the hours of 6am to 8pm.

Is the working parent entitlement available to all 2, 3 and 4-year-olds?

No. The working parent entitlement is only available to parents/carers who meet the eligibility criteria. 

How do I apply for the entitlement?

If you don’t have access to the internet or you need help completing your online application, contact the HMRC Childcare Service Customer Interaction Centre on 0300 123 4097.

When should I apply for the working parent entitlement?

You should apply for your working parent entitlement before the start of the term you'd like your child to start. Otherwise, your child will not be able to access their free hours until the following term.

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

  • beginning of September, you must apply by latest 31 August
  • beginning of January, you must apply by latest 31 December
  • beginning of April, you must apply by latest 31 March

Can I lose my eligibility?

Yes, if your circumstances change, or you do not reconfirm with HMRC.

Every three months, you'll need to reconfirm with HMRC that you're still eligible for the working parent entitlement. During this time, your child will still be able to keep their free place. The HMRC will also remind you to reconfirm that you're still eligible.

If you become ineligible you may still be able to access your free childcare place for a short period, known as a 'Grace Period'. You can check what your grace period arrangements are with your childcare provider.

How do I claim my free entitlement?

if you're application has been approved, you’ll get an eligibility code to give to your chosen approved provider.

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.

Foster carers

Foster carers may be able to receive free childcare for children in their care if all of the following criteria are met:

  • you're a single foster parent and you are in paid work outside of your fostering responsibilities
  • if you're a two-foster-parent family, both of you are in paid work outside of your fostering responsibilities; if one partner is not a foster parent they must be in qualifying paid work and earn a minimum of the equivalent of 16 hours at the national minimum/national living wage
  • accessing the free hours is consistent with the child’s care plan

Email earlylearninginfo@southwark.gov.uk  if you wish to apply under the working parent as a foster carer entitlement.

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:

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 or 30-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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