Free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds

From 1 September 2017, eligible working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds will be entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare and early education per week, for 38 weeks of the year.

You do not have to use the full 30 hours each week and you can spread the hours across the year, if your childcare provider allows you to do this. For example, if a provider is open 51 weeks of the year, they could offer you 22.25 funded hours per week all year round.

The entitlement will start from the term after a child’s third birthday – terms start on 1 April, 1 September and 1 January.

Eligibility criteria

  • Both parents must be working (or the sole parent in a lone parent family)
  • Each parent age 25+ must earn, on average, at least £120 a week (the equivalent to 16 hours at National Living Wage)
  • Each parent age 24 or younger must earn, on average, at least the equivalent of 16 hours at National Minimum Wage. This works out as:
    21-24 years-old £112.80 a week
    18-20 years-old £89.60 a week
    Under-18s £64.80 a week
  • Parents on an apprenticeship (age 19 or under) must earn at least £56 a week
  • Parents must earn less than £100,000 each per year.

Please note, eligibility is based on income earned, not number of hours worked.

Exceptions to the eligibility criteria

Families where one parent does not work (or neither parent works) will not usually be eligible, unless:

  • Both parents are employed, but one or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave or on statutory sick pay
  • One parent is employed and one parent either has substantial caring responsibilities, based on specific benefits received for caring
  • One parent is employed and one parent is disabled or incapacitated, based on the receipt of specific benefits

How do I apply?

If you meet the eligibility criteria and have a child under 4 who will be eligible from 1 September 2017 (ie date of birth after 31/08/2013), you can apply now. If you have a child who will become eligible after 1 September 2017 the earliest you can apply is when your child is 2 years and 36 weeks (approximately 4 months before they turn 3).

Parents must apply online via Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Childcare Service website. If you are having problems with your online application, or do not have access to the internet, you can call the childcare service Customer Interaction Centre on 0300 123 4097.

Once you have applied online, HMRC will issue you with an 11-digit eligibility number if you meet the criteria. (Please note, as of 19 July 2017, it is taking HMRC up to 15 days to give a decision on applications).

It is very important to keep the 11-digit eligibility number as you’ll need it to claim.

How do I claim my 30 free hours at a childcare provider(s)?

You can split the 30 free hours between up to 3 childcare providers - but you cannot claim the hours at more than 2 sites in a day.

You cannot claim more than 30 hours a week for fewer than 38 weeks a year.

  • Find an Ofsted registered childcare provider(s) who offers the 30 hours. These include childminders, day nurseries, nursery schools and nursery classes, pre-schools, playgroups and out-of-school clubs. Norfolk Family Information Service manages a list of providers who are likely to offer the 30 hours.
  • We encourage you to look at this information on choosing quality childcare
  • Contact the provider(s) to check whether they have spaces available and arrange a visit
  • Once you have chosen a provider(s) they will ask for your 11-digit eligibility number and you will need to complete a form

Please note, not all childcare providers may be able to offer the exact number of free hours that you require. Providers can only claim the 30 free hours from Norfolk County Council using the following criteria:

  • 10 hours maximum per day
  • Hours between 6am – 8pm each day

If your child attends a childcare provider for more than the free hours available in a claim period, you will be responsible for these fees. You should also check whether there are any other additional charges such as for meals and snacks.

You can still save 20% on these additional fees, by signing up to the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme 

If you have any further questions about 30 hours free childcare, please see the FAQs below contact Norfolk Family Information Service on 0344 800 8020 or email

Frequently asked questions

Yes, if you expect to earn at least the amounts specified in the eligibility criteria, on average, over the coming three months.

If you are newly self-employed, you do not need to demonstrate that you meet the income criteria for 12 months.

The eligibility criteria have been designed to help parents with changing incomes and those who are about to start work or increase their hours.

You will be given a short ‘grace period’ - set by the Government - to give you time to find a new job and start earning at least the minimum amount again.

If you do not increase your income or find a new job within the grace period, your child will stop being eligible to receive the 30 hours free childcare, but can continue to receive 15 hours free childcare. Visit free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds for more information.

No. You will not be able to get the additional 15 hours until the following claim period. Claim periods start 1 January, 1 April and 1 September.

No. It is optional for childcare providers to offer the 30 free hours. Here is an up-to-date list of providers who are likely to offer the 30 hours.

Yes. You can continue to get the following types of financial support and 30 hours of free childcare:

If you meet the eligibility criteria you can get it for your adopted child, however you cannot get it for a fostered child. A fostered child would however still be entitled to 15 hours free childcare. Visit free childcare for all 3 and 4-year-olds for more information. 

Until they reach statutory school age or attend school in Reception class (Year R).

From 1 September 2017, the Government will increase free childcare for eligible working parents to 30 hours a week (for up to 38 weeks a year) for 3 and 4-year-olds. This is part of the Childcare Act 2016. To find out who is eligible, see the Department for Education's (DfE) Childcare Bill.

Several local authorities, the 'early implementers', are piloting the 30 hours offer from September 2016. Norfolk County Council is not one of these councils.