Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

You are currently in: Family finance

Free Early Education Entitlement for two-year-olds

22 February 2019

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 two-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