In addition to funding for three and four-year-olds some two-year-olds are also entitled to 15 hours of free early education a week until the term after their third birthday.
Any eligible children can access funding from the term after they turn two once the family has received approval of their application. Please see the cut-off dates below:
|1 January – 31 March
||Summer term (April onwards)|
|1 April – 31 August
||Autumn term (September onwards)|
|1 September – 31 December
||Spring term (January onwards)|
1. The parent/carer must meet the following eligibility criteria (also used for free school meals):
Criteria currently under review
- Income-based Jobseekers' allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit) and have an annual income not exceeding £16,190
- Working Tax Credit four week run-on
2. The family receives Working Tax Credits and has annual gross earnings of no more than £16,190
3. The child has a statement of special educational needs or an education, health and care plan
4. The child (not the parent/carer) receives Disability Living Allowance
5. The child is looked after by the local authority
6. The child has left care through special guardianship, adoption or residence orders
Make an application
Once you have received approval for an application please take the reference to your chosen provider who will ask you complete a parent/carer agreement form.
If you need help applying online you can also apply:
- at your local Family Hub
- at an eligible provider
- through your health visitor
- through your social worker
Our guide to making an online application explains every step of the process.
If you are a parent and would like more information, please call the Family Information Service on 0800 055 6874 or visit your local Children’s Centre.
If you are a provider or practitioner please visit the Early Years website.
Using Free Early Education Entitlement
The 15-hour entitlement can be used:
- over a minimum of two days or a maximum of five days, at a minimum of 2.5 hours a day and a maximum of 10 hours a day
- over 38 weeks, or pro-rata over a maximum of 50 weeks per year. Some providers, such as independent schools, may offer less than 38 weeks. However, they must offer a minimum of 33 weeks and 11 in any one term
- anytime between 7am – 7pm, depending on the sessions offered by your chosen provider
- through just one childcare provider
- without being subject to conditional additional payments
How to claim Free Early Education Entitlement
Please take your approved application reference to your chosen provider. They will be able to claim funding from Essex County Council which is then paid directly to your provider on a termly basis.
Each term your provider will ask you to sign a parent/carer agreement form. The form is your commitment to that provider for your child's place for that term. The provider will then submit the form to Essex County Council to claim the Free Early Education Entitlement for the next term.
Early Years census and personal data
Each year, early years settings in the private, voluntary and independent sector who have children accessing Free Early Education Entitlement for three and four-year-olds are required to complete an Early Years Census. This information is passed by each setting to Essex County Council, which provides it to the Department for Education.
Under the Data Protection Act 1998 early years settings must inform parents about the data they hold and how it is used. Data covers personal information such as names, addresses, date of birth, etc. This is known as a privacy notice. This should also include information about whether the data is passed to any third parties, for example the local authority.
If parents have any questions about how data is being used or stored within an early years setting, they should contact the childcare provider directly.
Our Early Years privacy notice explains how Essex County Council holds and uses this data. Information on how the Department for Education holds and uses this data can be found on its website.