Childcare funding


What is funded childcare?

The government could fund 15 to 30 hours of your child’s care, for up to 38 weeks a year.

The number of hours you can get depends on your child’s age and your circumstances. How you apply also varies.

These pages explain:

  • how many hours you could get
  • how and when to apply
  • how changes coming in 2024 and 2025 could benefit you

To find out what you can get right away, use Childcare Choices. This is the government eligibility checker.

Childcare Choices also explains other types of childcare funding, like tax-free childcare.

Childcare Choices eligibility checker

To find an approved childcare provider, search ESCIS. This is East Sussex County Council’s database.

ESCIS – Find a childcare provider

What funded childcare can you get?

All families – the universal offer

Everyone can claim 15 hours a week of funded childcare when their children are 3-4 years old. And this continues until they start school - even if that’s past their fifth birthday.

You apply through a childcare provider for this.

Working families – the extended offer

Working parents and carers can get an extra 15 hours of funded childcare for their 3-4 year olds.

This means you would get 30 hours a week in total. But you’ll need to meet certain conditions, like:

  • each partner in your household works at least 16 hours a week
  • each partner in your household earns at least £139 a week
  • neither partner in your household earns over £100,000 per year
  • if you’re a single-parent family, you’ll need to meet the same criteria.

If your family doesn’t meet the income levels, you might still get the extended offer if you get benefits or other support.

Working families will also be able to claim funded childcare for younger children from April 2024 and September 2025.

You apply through HMRC for this.

Families of disadvantaged 2-year-olds

The government offers funded childcare to families with disadvantaged 2-year-olds. This may include you if you or your partner:

  • receive benefits, allowances or other government support
  • have a disability or if your child has a disability
  • arrived from another country and cannot claim benefits

You apply through us for this.

Foster carers

If your foster child is two years old, they already qualify for 15 hours a week for disadvantaged 2-year-olds.

After that, all 3–4-year-olds get 15 hours a week funded childcare. However, as a foster carer, you could boost this to 30 hours a week if you have extra paid work. For example:

  • you’re a sole foster carer and you also have a paid job
  • you’re a couple and one of you works while the other receives benefits
  • you’re a couple and both do paid work and foster

You can also claim funded childcare for younger children from April 2024 and September 2025.

You apply through us for this.

When can you start funded childcare?

The government is providing more childcare for working families. This will start between April 2024 and September 2025.

0-8 months old:

There is no funded childcare available.

9-23 months old

  • available now: no funded childcare available
  • from September 2024: 15 hours a week for working families
  • from September 2025: 30 hours a week for working families

2 years old

  • available now: 15 hours a week for disadvantaged 2-year-olds
  • from April 2024: 15 hours a week for working families
  • from September 2025: 30 hours a week for working families

3–4-year-olds

  • available now: 15 hours a week for all children
  • available now: 30 hours a week for working families

Can you start your funded childcare on your child’s birthday?

You won’t be able to start your free childcare on your child’s birthday. You have three funding windows a year to apply. They match the dates of the school terms:

  • Autumn: September to December
  • Spring: January to March
  • Summer: April to August

You apply and get approval. Then you can start in the next funding period.

For example:

  • your child’s birthday is in September – the autumn term
  • you apply and get approved - later in the autumn term
  • they start their funded childcare in January - the spring term

Try and allow at least a month for your application to be processed. Or you may not get approval in time to start in the next term.

What if you need extra hours?

If you need more hours per week, ask your childcare provider to add them as non-funded hours. You then pay them their private rate for the extra hours.

How to get funded childcare in the school holidays

Many childcare providers, like nurseries and childminders, open throughout the year. If yours does, you can ask them to spread out your 38 weeks of funded childcare over the extra weeks. This is called a stretched offer.

Will you have to pay anything for your funded childcare?

Your childcare provider can’t ask you to pay more to “top up” your funded hours. But they may charge you for extra time and services.

Ask your provider to explain about any extra fees they will charge you.


Apply for the universal offer: 15 hours a week for all families with 3-4-year-olds

Ask your new or existing childcare provider for this. You don’t need to apply through us or the government.

  1. find an Ofsted-registered childcare provider to apply through
  2. confirm your child’s age with a birth certificate or passport
  3. they confirm your funded hours with the government, which pays them directly

ESCIS – Find a childcare provider

Apply for the extended offer for working families

If you’re a working family applying for:

  • 30 hours a week for 3-4 year-olds
  • 15 hours a week for younger children from April 2024

Follow these steps:

  1. go to Childcare Choices to check you are eligible
  2. follow the steps to apply with HMRC and get your 11-digit eligibility code

You must log in to your childcare account and revalidate your code every three months. If you don’t do this, you will lose your free childcare.

Apply for the  extended offer through Childcare Choices

Apply for 15 hours a week childcare funding for families of disadvantaged 2-year-olds

  1. check with us that you’re eligible
  2. complete an application on Parent Portal
  3. we give you a 6-digit eligibility code
  4. find an Ofsted-registered provider and give them your code.
  5. We pay them directly

Apply for childcare funding for disadvantaged 2-year-olds

Apply for free childcare for foster carers

  1. check with your child’s social worker that they approve you using a childcare provider
  2. apply to us – you can do this when your child is 16 weeks away from turning three
  3. we give you a code and tell your child’s social worker
  4. give the code to an approved childcare provider, which we pay directly

You and your child’s social worker must reconfirm your free childcare every three months. If you don’t do this you will lose your free childcare

Apply for funding for foster children

Contact us for help

Contact us for help or if you have any questions:

Email: Customer Relations Team

Phone: 0345 60 80 192 (lines are open from 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday)


What is tax-free childcare?

You can pay your Ofsted registered childcare provider with money you add to your online childcare account.  

When you add money, the government gives you an extra contribution. It makes paying for childcare more affordable.  

  • for every £8 you pay into your account, the government gives you an extra £2. 
  • if you pay £1000 into your account, you’ll get £200 free 
  • you can carry on up to a limit of £2000 a year. 

Check your eligibility and apply with GOV.UK 

How do you get tax-free childcare?

If you don’t already have one, register for a childcare account.  

Then follow the instructions to: 

  • set up your tax-free childcare 
  • add your childcare provider 
  • add money to pay them  

Next, the government adds a contribution. Then you pay your childcare provider. 

If you already have an account, just sign in and follow the guidance. 

Sign in or register for a childcare account 

Does tax-free childcare stop you from getting other childcare funding?

Tax-free childcare won’t stop you from getting other kinds of funded childcare.  

You may already receive funded childcare like: 

  • universal childcare for 3-4 year olds 
  • childcare funding for disadvantaged 2-year-olds 
  • childcare funding for working families 

If so, just log in to your childcare account and add your tax-free childcare option.