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30 Hours Free Childcare: What Parents Need to Know

There’s a lot of complicated information about 30 Hours Free Childcare out there. The childcare scheme has helped thousands of working families, but it’s confused (and frustrated) a lot of them too!

In this guide, we answer parent FAQs and give you practical information about 30 Hours Free Childcare, and how you can make it work for your family.  We’ve also included some information about Tax-Free Childcare, so you can decide whether or not you would benefit from using it alongside your 30 Hours Free Childcare entitlement.

All 3 and 4-year-olds living in England are currently entitled to 15 hours a week (570 hours per year) free childcare for 38 weeks of the year (during term-time).  Some eligible working parents however, are now entitled to up to 30 Hours Free Childcare – that’ s 1,140 hours a year!

The government rolled this scheme out in 2017 to support working families. It’s a great idea but it’s fair to say the system can be a little complicated, so it’s a good idea to get to grips with the facts to make sure you don’t miss out.

You can use 30 Hours Free Childcare to pay for:

• Registered nurseries, childminders and nannies
• Registered after-school clubs and play schemes
• Home care workers from a registered home care agency

30 Hours Free Childcare Facts!

Early Years Providers don’t have to offer 30 Hours Free Childcare (we do!), so check that they do before you register with them if you want to use your entitlement! 

Some Early Years Providers only have limited 30 Hours Free Childcare Places available

You don’t have to take up the full 30 hours to receive the funding if you don’t want to For example, if you only want so take up 25 hours per week, this will still be funded by 30 hours scheme

You can split the offer between more than one childcare provider (but no more than two sites a day) If you do split the offer between providers, you’ll need to provide your eligibility code and information to each provider

In order to receive 30 hours free childcare, you’ll need to be able to answer ‘Yes’ to all of the following questions:

  • • Is my child either 3 or 4-years old?
  • • Are both parents or carers in the household working OR am I a sole parent or carer who works?
  • • Does each parent/carer earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours a week at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage?
  • • Does each parent/carer have an annual income of less than £100,000?
  • • Do I live in England?

The easiest way to check if you’re eligible for 30 hours free childcare is to use the Government’s Online Childcare Calculator.

Good news! You can still receive 30 Hours Free Childcare if you’re:

• An apprentice
• A foster parent
• On paid sick leave
• On maternity, paternity or adoption leave
• On paid shared parental leave
• Are self-employed and have set up your business in the last year (even if you can’t prove that you meet the 16 hour earning requirement)
• Not currently working but are expecting to start work in the next 31 days

If you’re eligible, you’ll be given an 11-digit code that you’ll need to take to your childcare provider, along with your national insurance number and your child’s birth certificate.

Your childcare provider will then check that the code is valid – and if it is – they’ll book your 30 hours free childcare for the next three months.  Your code is only valid for three months – you must renew it every three months in order to keep receiving your free hours.

Once you’ve successfully applied for 30 hours free childcare, you’ll be given your own online Childcare Services Account, which you can use to manage your 30 Free Hours (and your Tax-Free Childcare Account if you have one).

There are some really important things to remember when you’re claiming 30 hours free childcare:

  • Your code expires every three months and it’s up to you to renew it and give it to your childcare provider on time. Renewal isn’t automatic and your childcare provider can’t renew it for you.
  • When you receive your eligibility code it will come with an expiration date – you must renew your code by that date in order to keep on claiming your free hours. You can do this by logging into the Childcare Services Account that you were given when you applied for your 30 hours.
  • If you don’t renew your code and give it to your childcare provider every three months, you won’t be able to claim your 30 hours free childcare for the whole of the next term.  This could lead to you missing out on months of free childcare, so make sure you set up a reminder. The Government should send you a text or email before your personal deadline, but it’s always a good idea to put another reminder on your phone and calendar
  • You should give your new code to your childcare provider as soon as you receive it, to make sure everything goes through in time. The government have warned that things might take longer when lots of people apply at once, and that you should allow time for them to do extra checks if they need to.

You can start using your 30 hours from the beginning of the term after your child turns 3, or the beginning of the term after you receive your eligibility code (whichever is later).

Spring Term – 1st January – 31st March
Summer Term – 1st April – 31st August
Autumn Term – 1st September – 31st December

You can apply for 30 Hours Free Childcare up to 16 weeks before your child turns 3, but you won’t be able to start using it until your child is 3-years-old. It’s a good idea to apply as soon as possible within these 16 weeks before your child’s third birthday to avoid disappointment but remember…

When you receive your code it will have an ‘end date’ telling you when you need to apply for the next one.

The clock starts ticking on your code as soon as you receive it, so you’ll need to renew it within three months of that date – NOT the date you start using your free hours – or you’ll miss out on your free hours for the next term!

Each parent/carer in your household needs to earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours a week at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage (whichever applies to that person).  It doesn’t matter how many hours a week you actually work, it just matters that you each earn this equivalent amount.

The amount each person needs to earn depends on their age and whether or not they’re an apprentice. You can check the current National Minimum Wage and Living Wage (and which one applies to you) on the government’s website. 

Many childcare providers ‘stretch’ the 1,140 free hours over 12 months (instead of 38 weeks term-time only) so you benefit from the savings throughout the year.  This means that you receive fewer than 30 free hours each week but – if your child attends nursery during half terms and holidays – you’ll still receive your 1,140 hour entitlement each year and will get free hours every week, not just during term-time.

In order to get your full 1,140 hours entitlement, providers often insist on you fulfilling a minimum weekly booking pattern for your child.

If you’re separated, the person who your child normally lives with needs to meet the criteria for 30 hours free childcare.  If that person lives with a partner, the partner also needs to qualify even though they are not your child’s parent.

If you don’t live with a partner but your child normally lives with you, only you need to meet the criteria.

Both people living together as a couple need to be in work in order for you to be able to claim 30 hours free childcare.  If one of you doesn’t meet the criteria, you won’t be able to claim the free hours.

If one parent/carer in a household loses their job AFTER you have successfully applied for 30 hours free childcare, the day they become unemployed is your ‘validity end date’. There is a short grace period before you become ineligible for 30 hours free childcare and can no longer claim the hours. This is typically until the end of term or the end of the following term.

Tax-Free Childcare is a government scheme designed to help working parents with childcare costs. It is available to working parents of children aged 12 and under (17 and under if the child has a disability). The scheme allows eligible parents to set up an online childcare account, which you can pay in to whenever you like and can be used to pay your childcare provider directly.

Here’s the great bit…For every £8 you pay into the account, the government will pay in an extra £2, which can really add up over time!

You can get up to £500 every 3 months (£2,000 a year) for each of your children or up to £1,000 every 3 months (£4000 a year) for a child with a disability.

If your circumstances change or you no longer want to pay in the account then you can withdraw the money you have built up, with the government withdrawing their corresponding contribution (sorry!)

The eligibility criteria is similar (but not exactly the same) as 30 hours free Childcare and you will be required to re-confirm your circumstances every 3 months. You can check whether you would be eligible using the online calculator at

You can use Tax-Free Childcare to pay for:

  • • Registered nurseries, childminders and nannies
    • Registered after-school clubs and play schemes
    • Home care workers from a registered home care agency

Save More on your Childcare Costs!!

Did you know?  You can use your Tax-Free Account to pay your childcare provider’s invoice for any childcare above and beyond your 30 hours entitlement. You can do this by logging in to your account and sending payment directly to the provider’s bank account.

Depending on personal circumstances, some people benefit more from childcare vouchers and credits, whilst others benefit more from Tax-Free childcare.  The Childcare Calculator at Childcare Choices can help you decide which would be better for you and your family, but ultimately you need to figure out what’s best for you

If you decide to switch to Tax-Free Childcare, you’ll need to let both your employer and HRMC know that you’ve stopped using your vouchers within three months of successfully applying for Tax-Free Childcare.

If you successfully apply for Tax-Free Childcare:

• Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit stops straight away
• Childcare vouchers you already have can still be used, but you can’t claim any more

You can apply for Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours via Childcare Choices. You, and your partner if live with one, will need your:

– National Insurance number
– Details of one or more of the following – your UK Passport, tax credits, P60 or a recent payslip.

In most cases, you’ll be told straight away if your application is successful. In some cases, HMRC may need to do some additional checks to confirm whether you’re eligible.

If you are eligible for Tax-Free Childcare you will be given a Tax-Free Childcare Account which you access through your online Childcare Service Account (the same online account that you receive when you apply for 30 hours).

You’ll be given a unique reference number for your child and will need to log in and confirm eligibility every 3 months. You’ll need to give the number to your childcare provider so they can match your payments to your child.

To use your Tax-Free Account you simply pay however much you like into your Tax-Free Childcare Account using your bank card, so the government can top it up by £2 for every £8 you’ve paid in.

You can then ‘release’ the money in your Tax-Free Childcare Account to your childcare provider to pay them directly. If you’d prefer, you can also set up a regular payment from your Tax-Free Childcare account to your Childcare Provider on a certain date – whichever suits you best!

Top Tax-Free Tips

• You can only use Tax-Free Childcare to pay a childcare provider if the provider is signed up to the scheme, so check with them before you get started

• Once your childcare provider has signed up to the scheme, you can simply add them as a payee on your Tax-Free Childcare Account

• When you pay money in it takes 24 hours to clear before you can pay your childcare provider

• It will be another 3 days before your childcare provider receives the money

If you have any questions that haven’t been answered in this guide, ask your nursery manager or childcare provider! They’ll have experience in helping parents with free childcare schemes, and should be able to point you in the right direction.