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30 hours ‘free’ childcare: what parents need to know

The government’s 30-hours funded childcare places for working parents of three- and four-year-olds differs from the 15-hours childcare offer.

Below we address some of the details and questions on the 30 hours offer, including how to sign up for it and the temporary eligibility changes that have been introduced as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.


Is my family eligible for 30 hours funding?

A boy and his teacher are indoors in their kindergarten classroom. They are building with blocks together.


You will be eligible for the 30-hour funded childcare offer if:

  • You earn more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage or minimum wage per week: for example, over the next three months you expect to earn at least £1,853.28 – the National Living Wage if you are 23 or older.

There is no requirement to work a certain number of hours per week – it is all about how much you earn. This means if you only work 10 hours a week but earn £12 per hour, you will meet the minimum earning threshold. Apprentices are also eligible as long as they earn the equivalent to 16 hours at the apprentice minimum wage.


  • You earn less than £100,000 per year.

This applies if you are self-employed or on a zero-hours contract and expect to meet the earning criteria on average over the three months after you have applied for the 30-hours. HMRC will look at data such as your previous earnings to consider whether you are likely to meet the criteria and may contact you for further information if they are unsure.

If you are starting up your own business, you will not be expected to meet the minimum earning criteria in your first year of trading.

If you are not working but you expect to take up paid work within 31 days, you can still apply for 30 hours, as long as you expect to meet the income criteria over the coming three months.

If you are a single parent and meet the above criteria, you will be eligible for the 30 hours. If you live with a partner, you both must meet the above criteria. This still applies if one of you is not the child’s parent – for example, if you have remarried or have started living with a new partner. If you are separated/divorced from your child’s parent, the eligibility rules will only apply to the parent that the child normally lives with (and their new partner if they are part of the same household).

If you are on shared parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave, you can still apply for the 30 hours. If you’re on adoption leave for a child aged three- to four-years-old, you must return to work within 31 days of the date you first apply for 30 hours free childcare.


How do I sign up for the 30 hours?

Volunteer teacher reading to a class of preschool kids


You can apply for both the 30-hour offer and tax-free childcare via a single application on the Gov.uk website.

To complete the application, you provide your name, address and national insurance number, as well as whether you expect to meet the income requirements over the next three months and whether you are in receipt of any benefits.

If you live with a partner, you will need to provide the same information for them as well. This will enable HMRC to decide whether your child is eligible for the 30 hours (as well as tax-free childcare).

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

Your provider will then use the government’s eligibility checking system to check the code is valid. If it is, they will be able to book your child’s place – but bear in mind that providers don’t have to take part in the 30-hour offer, so be sure to speak to your childcare provider about what they are able to offer for your family.

You will need to reconfirm your eligibility every three months and will receive a reminder text message or email from the government before the deadline.

If you give false information about your eligibility, you could be fined up to £3000.


Accessing 30 hours places: Things to know

A photo of small boy drawing on the blackboard and his big sister looking after him. They're in children's room.


  • Early years providers don’t have to offer the 30 hours.
  • Like the 15-hour offer, the 30-hour scheme is optional for providers. This means that your childcare provider may decide not to offer funded places. Alternatively, they may limit the number of 30-hours places they offer.
  • This might be because, for example, the level of funding they receive from the government is not enough to cover the cost of delivering places, or because they do not have enough staff to deliver the extended offer.
  • You don’t have to take up the full 30 hours to receive funding.
  • If you want to take up, for example, 25 hours per week, this will still be funded by the government under the 30-hour offer.
  • You can split the offer between more than one childcare provider.
  • You can split your funded entitlement between more than one provider, though no more than two sites in one day. For example, a child could attend a breakfast club and nursery setting based on one site or a maintained school and a private, voluntary and independent (PVI) provider on two different sites. However, it is important to bear in mind the impact of multiple providers on a child’s learning, development and wellbeing.
  • If you are splitting your offer between providers, you will need to provide your eligibility code and information to each provider.
  • 30-hour funding only covers 38 weeks of the year.
  • The actual government funded entitlement is for 1140 hour per year. This means that if you take up your full 30 hours per week, government funding will only over this for 38 weeks of the year. However, your provider may choose to deliver a ‘stretched offer’ i.e. fewer hours per week over more weeks of the year: for example, 22 hour per week over 52 weeks or the year, or just under 24 hours per week over 48 weeks of the year. Speak to your provider about how they can offer the hours and what works best for all of you.
  • Providers can charge non-compulsory additional charges.
  • Government funding is meant to cover the delivery of early education and care only. This means that childcare providers are allowed to charge for additional goods, services and activities, such as lunch or trips, as long as these charges are voluntary. For example, your provider might give you the choice of paying for lunch or providing lunch yourself, though it is important to note that this is not possible at all childcare settings (for example, some may not have food storage facilities).

Find out more about the 30 hours on the Family Corner Website

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