Free childcare for 2,3 or 4 year olds

All parents of 3 and 4 year old children are able to claim free childcare entitlement for their children.
Parents of 2 year old children may also be able to claim free childcare depending on their situation and the needs of their child.

Please choose one of the options below to find out more information on free childcare:

If you receive financial support you could be eligible for free childcare for your child when they turn 2. (Children looked after by the local authority automatically qualify for this childcare).

To find out if you qualify, please use the online eligibility checker below:

Find out if you qualify

What happens if my child is eligible?

If your child is eligible, the online eligibility checker will give you a reference number which remains active for six weeks. It must be checked by a childcare provider within six weeks of issue and being reserved a place, even if your child cannot start straight away.

If the reference number is not checked within six weeks, it will expire and you will need to use the eligibility checker again to obtain another valid reference number.

Where can my child take up their free childcare?

You can use the free childcare at any good or outstanding OFSTED registered childcare provider or childminder.

To find a list of childcare providers and childminders please view our Children and families service finder.

Search for a childcare provider

Find out more about choosing the right childcare provider.

When can my child start?

To find out when your child would be able to start a 2 year funded place, use the start calculator document below:

How many free hours does my child get?

Every eligible child is entitled to access a maximum of 570 hours of free childcare for 2 year olds. This is split into three funding blocks in the year following the child’s 2nd birthday, on the following basis:

  • A maximum of 15 hours per week over a minimum of 2 days per week
  • A maximum of 10 hours in a single day
  • A minimum of 2½ continuous hours in any one day
  • Take all or part of their free childcare and education for 2 year olds at a single setting or a maximum of two settings (including maintained sector schools)

Is there any other way my child can qualify?

Your child may also eligible if they:

  • are under a child protection plan (Section 47)
  • are a child in need (Section 17)
  • have higher special needs and disabilities (SEND), as evidenced by the early years descriptors and high needs block
  • are subject to a Special Guardianship Order, child arrangement or adoption order.
  • have had an Early Help Assessment (EHA)

If you think your child meets one of the above criteria, you will need to speak with the professional working with your family and ask them to make a referral. Parents and carers cannot make a self-referral.

All 3 and 4 year olds can receive up to 570 hours a year of childcare. This is spread across three funding blocks, with a maximum of 15 hours a week.

When can I take up a place for my child?

Children qualify for the first full funding block of childcare following their 3rd birthday.

The three blocks are:

  • 1 September to 31 December
  • 1 January to 31 March
  • 1 April to 31 August

To find out when teh free childcare will start for your child, just enter your child's birth month and year into the start calculator below:

Where can my child take up their childcare?

You can access the free entitlement at most OFSTED registered childcare providers. These include:

  • Private day nurseries
  • Pre-school playgroups
  • Maintained nurseries (nurseries attached to a school) 
  • Childminders and childminder agencies
  • Independent schools

Details of all childcare providers can be found on the Children and families service finder.

Search for a childcare provider

How do I claim my free childcare?

To claim your free childcare please speak to your chosen childcare provider who can help.

Childcare providers can not charge for these FREE hours. Find out more about choosing the right childcare provider.

Can I use more than one childcare provider?

You may choose for your child to take all or part of their free entitlement at a maximum of two childcare providers.

What if I don’t want to use the free childcare straight away?

Not all parents choose to start their free entitlement as soon as they qualify. It may be that you choose to start a few weeks into the term. Your child is still entitled to free entitlement regardless of when you choose to start in the term, provided:

  • The childcare provider you have chosen has a vacancy
  • The vacancy that is available does not require the childcare provider to employ another member of staff - additional children would exceed the amount of children they are allowed to have as set by OFSTED in the OFSTED ratios.
  • The childcare provider has no information conditions written into their admissions policy or terms and conditions to state that they will not admit funded children after the headcount day has passed.

Any questions?

If you require assistance regarding the free entitlement, please do not hesitate to contact us at:

What is the Early Years Pupil Premium?

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is additional funding available for investment in improving outcomes for children. It is used to improve the facilities, equipment and learning experiences to benefit the growth and development of your child.

Can I claim the Early Years Pupil Premium?

Children who are currently claiming the free entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds in Northamptonshire, could be eligible for the EYPP if:

  • They are 3 or 4 years old and receiving free entitlement in any OFSTED registered childcare provider and their parents are in receipt of one or more of the benefits used to access eligibility for free school meals

or they have:

  • been looked after by Northamptonshire County Council for at least one day
  • been adopted from care in Northamptonshire
  • left care through special guardianship; and subject to a child arrangement order setting out with whom the child is to live (formerly known as residence orders) in Northamptonshire

How can I check if my child qualifies for the Early Years Pupil Premium?

You can check your child's eligibility by using the form below:

Find out if your child qualifies

You will need to complete questions and submit your check. You will be given a decision immediately along with a reference number.

How do I receive the pupil premium?

The EYPP is paid directly to your childcare provider as part of their normal funding claim.

You will need to give the reference number to them so they can claim for the funding.

What type of childcare provider is eligible to receive the premium?

Any OFSTED registered childcare provider can claim the premium if you: 

  • use their service for the free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and
  • give the childcare provider your reference number

Find out more information about the Early Years Pupil Premium

To find out more about the Early Years Pupil Premium you can either talk to your childcare provider.

Or you can email

When will it start from?
In Northamptonshire it will start from September 2017. Some areas of the country will be starting earlier to test out systems and ways of delivering it.

Who will get it?
All children can receive 15 funded hours but not all children will be eligible for 30. Children who receive 2 year old funding or qualify for the Pupil Premium will not necessarily be eligible. This offer is about supporting working parents.

Who will be eligible?
Both parents (one in a lone parent family) will need to be working and earning the equivalent of 16 hours a week on National Minimum Wage including those receiving tax credits or Universal Credit. Eligibility will be retained if one parent is temporarily away from work for instance on maternity leave or off sick. Families should also be eligible if one parent is working and the other has substantial caring responsibilities or a disability.

How can parents find out if they qualify?
Once the system is operational there will be a simple online checker. It is likely parents will have to reconfirm on a regular basis but there should be some grace period if they leave their job so that there can be some continuity for the child.

What happens if childcare providers cannot offer the 30 hours?
Childcare providers should be starting to think about likely demand in their area and whether they will need to increase their opening hours or develop new places in order to deliver the offer. There may be some capital funding to support this. Where providers cannot expand we will be looking at ways of working in partnership so that children can receive their full entitlement using a combination of different providers.

I work all year so need childcare in the school holiday as well as term time.
Some providers are already open and offering funded places all year round. More may be considering this option so parents can seek out a provider who meets their needs. If the funded offer is spread across 50 weeks instead of the traditional 38, then it would equate to 22.8 hours per week.

My working hours vary or are outside the traditional 9 to 5. Will I still be able to use the 30 hours offer?
The Government is encouraging childcare providers to explore ways in which they can offer more flexibility to meet local need. This will be easier for some providers than others so parents may need to ‘shop around’ to find the best way to meet their family’s needs.

My child has special needs. Will a childcare provider be able to cope with them for the extra hours?
All families should have access to high quality, flexible childcare. The Government review and local review will explore ways to ensure providers are supported to meet the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

How will childcare providers get paid for delivering the offer?
It is expected that it will be part of the same process by which they are currently paid for other funded childcare. However we have recognised the need to change and improve this process to make it work better for everyone and will be working on this over the next year.

As a provider, how can I tell what demand is likely to be in 2017?
We recommend you consider your current cohort and how many might have been eligible if the entitlement were available now. This kind of information, whilst not very scientific, can be combined with knowledge of new housing developments and changes in employment opportunities to give you a feel for how things might be in 2017.

The extended offer will mean extra staffing costs for childcare providers. How will these be met?
The Government have committed to making more money available with an estimated increase of 30p in the average hourly rate. We are awaiting further consultation on new guidelines regarding the funding formula before we can agree the rates in Northamptonshire.

How can I find out more?
Further information, as it becomes available, will be shared through the Northamptonshire Early Years Bulletin. The following websites may also be useful in providing more detail:

What happens next?
A group of provider representatives has already been established to look at how the 30 hours offer will work and consider the support that providers will need if they are to make changes to their current delivery. If you would like to get involved with this please contact

We are particularly looking for representation from large chain providers and from the Kettering area, although all offers will be welcomed.

The DfE is currently consulting on detail of how the scheme will work. Please give them your views by accessing the consultation papers at:

They are also interested in hearing from providers about what burdens exist in the current system and what can be done to limit unnecessary regulations and requirements. Please go to Cutting red tape to find out how to give your views.

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Other sources of support

Working tax credits - If you are in work or self-employed,​ you may be able to claim tax support to help towards childcare costs.
Care to Learn - If you are under 20 years old and in education, the Care to Learn scheme can help with childcare costs whilst you study.