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Free Early Education Entitlement for two-year-olds

24 May 2018

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: 

Born on or between
Terms for eligible funding
1 January – 31 March Summer term (April onwards)
1 April – 31 August Autumn term (September onwards)
1 September – 31 December Spring term (January onwards)

Eligibility criteria

Two year-olds are eligible for 15 hours of free early years provision if:

1. Their parent(s) claim one of the following benefits:

      • Income support

      • Income-based Job Seekers' Allowance

      • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

      • Universal Credit - for places starting in the summer term 2018 (on or after 1 April 2018), or any subsequent term, if a parent is entitled to Universal Credit they must have an annual net earned income equivalent to and not exceeding £15,400, assessed on up to 3 of the parent's most recent Universal Credit assessment periods.

      • Tax credit and they have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax

      • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit

      • Support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act

      • Working Tax Credit - 4 week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

2. The child has a statement of special educational needs made under section 324 of the Education Act 1996 

3. The child has an Education, Health and Care Plan prepared under section 37 of the Children and Families Act 2014

4. The child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance under section 71 of the Social Security and Contributions and Benefits Act 2014

5. They are looked after by a local authority (under section 22(1) of the Children Act 1989) or by a local authority in Wales within the meaning given by section 74(1) of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014

6. They are no longer looked after by the local authority as a result of an adoption order, a special guardianship order or a child arrangements order (within the meaning of section 8(1) of the Children Act 1989 or section 74(1) of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014) which related to either or both of the following:

  • with whom the child is to live:

  • when the child is to live with any person

N.B. Eligibility checks will apply a new threshold from April 2018 for Universal Credit claimants for Free School Meals (FSM).  Essex County Council uses the Department for Education's eligibility checking system to verify whether children meet the eligibility criteria based on benefits the parents receive (including Universal Credit).

Make an application

Apply for Free Early Education Entitlement

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 the 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.

What we need

We only collect basic personal data about you and your child which does not include any special types of information or location based information. This does, however, include name, address, date of birth and National Insurance number.

Why we need it

We need to know your basic personal data in order to share with the local authority and Department for Education who will access information from other government departments to confirm your child's eligibility for the extended free entitlement.  we will only collect the personal data that we need in order to carry out these checks.  We will not sell your personal information to anyone else.

What we do with it

We will do what we can to make sure we hold records about you (on paper and electronically) in a secure way.  We will only make it available to those who have a right to see it.  All personal information we receive is processed by our staff in the UK. However, for the purposes of IT hosting and maintenance this information is located on servers within the European Union.  No third parties have access to your personal information, unless the law allows them to do so.

How long we keep it

We are required under UK tax law to keep your basic personal information (name, address and contact details) for a minimum of 6 years, after which time it will be destroyed.

What are your rights?

If, at any point, you believe that the information we hold on you is incorrect, you can request to see it, have it corrected or deleted.  If you wish to raise a complaint on how we have handled your personal information, you can contact our Data Protection Officer who will investigate the matter.

If you are not satisfied with our response or believe we are not processing your personal information in accordance with the law, you can complain to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) by visiting or emailing

View Essex County Council's privacy notice

Our Data Protection Officer can be contacted at or by calling 03457 430 430. Information on how the Department for Education holds and uses this data can be found at