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Childcare for working parents

22 February 2019

Notice to parents

To qualify for 30 hours of free childcare in September you must get your code before 31 August. Register on Childcare Choices to apply for your code. 

If you don't apply by 31 August you will not be able to access your extended entitlement until the spring term.

If you're having difficulties please contact Childcare Choices on 0300 123 4097.

You may also be able to save money with Tax-Free Childcare on your additional childcare costs.  If you already have an eligibility code please check your details for the extended entitlement and/or Tax-Free Childcare every 3 months.

Childcare vouchers closed to new entrants on 6 April 2018. You can keep using vouchers if you joined the scheme and received your first voucher by 5 April, as long as your employer continues to offer vouchers. 

Increase in free early learning and childcare entitlement for working parents

All three and four-year-olds are entitled to 570 hours, equivalent to 15 hours per week over 38 weeks, of government-funded childcare per year; from September 2017, the Childcare Act 2016 increases this entitlement for working parents by an additional 570 hours.

This means many families will be able to claim 1140 hours of free childcare per year, or 30 hours per term-time week for each of their three or four-year-olds. If the entitlement is also used outside of term time - across 50 weeks of the year - this works out to 22.8 hours per week.

These additional hours will support working parents who are struggling with childcare costs and who may be looking to increase their working hours. The hours are also flexible, depending on what would suit a family’s particular needs, meaning all, or some, of the free 30 hours a week can be used. Specific arrangements should be discussed with the childcare provider/school.

Do I qualify? 

The additional free hours will be available to families where:

  • Both parents are in work (as defined below) and for single parent families, the sole parent is in work.

  • 'In work’ means in employment (including self-employment) and earning more than the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage for working 16 hours a week. 

  • Each parent must also earn less than £100,000 per year.

  • One parent must be 'in work' if the other receives disability benefit or benefits related to caring responsibilities.

It is also proposed that the additional hours should be made available to families in the following circumstances:

  • Both parents are employed but one, or both parents, are temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity leave.

  • Both parents are employed but one, or both parents, are temporarily away from the workplace on adoption leave.

  • Both parents are employed but one, or both parents, are temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick pay.

  • One parent is employed and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring, or

  • One parent is employed and one parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits. 

As with the existing 15 hours free entitlement for three and four-year olds, children will become eligible for the additional 15 hours at the start of the school term after their third birthday: 

Age of child

As with the existing 15 hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds, children become eligible for the additional 15 hours at the start of the school term after their third birthday. 

Child born between Eligible for funding
1 April - 31 August 1 September following the 3rd birthday
1 September - 31 December 1 January following their 3rd birthday
1 January - 31 March 1 April following their 3rd birthday

If your circumstances change

If a family’s circumstances change and they are no longer eligible for the additional 15 hours of free childcare, a grace period will apply so that children can continue with their free place for a short period of time. If a parent’s circumstances change again during this period, they may reapply to HMRC and continue to receive the extra hours.

Choosing a childcare provider/school

Childcare providers/schools in Essex do not have to offer the additional hours, over and above the current 15 hours free entitlement for all three and four-year-olds.

As such, it may be possible to access the full 30 hours across more than one childcare provider/school and choose a different pattern of attendance depending on which provider is chosen.

Families should speak to their chosen provider(s) to find out whether they are planning to offer the additional hours.

How to apply 

Families are also able to claim tax-free childcare alongside the extended entitlement hours and can apply for both schemes via the HMRC website. 

Once a family has been confirmed as eligible, they will be given a unique code to present at their chosen childcare provider. Eligibility will need to be re-confirmed every three months in order to continue claiming through both schemes. You do this through the HMRC website using the log in you created when you first applied.  If your details have not changed, you only need to tick a box in your childcare service account to confirm your details remain the same – this will then automatically be fed back through to local authority systems. 

You should receive two reminders to reconfirm (four weeks and two weeks before your reconfirmation deadline).  If you miss the reconfirmation deadline, despite the reminders, you will receive a message from HMRC telling you that you are no longer eligible for 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare, however you will remain entitled until the end of your current grace period.   

More information about the extended entitlement and other help available to support families with the cost of childcare, can be found at childcare choices. For help with completing your application, or any other queries, please contact HMRC on 0300 123 4097. If you have experienced any technical issues while applying, you may be able to claim Childcare Service compensation. Please note Essex County Council does not have access to the HMRC website and so will be unable to answer any queries.

For more information, see our frequently asked questions in the FEEE Guide for Parents now available in:

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.

Privacy notice

View Essex County Council's education privacy notice