Free childcare for 2, 3 and 4 year olds (NEF)

In England all three and four year olds are entitled to up to 15 hours of funded early education and childcare a week for up to 38 weeks a year. This is a universal offer and is available to all children regardless of their family circumstances. Some two year olds are also eligible and parents would need to make an application for two year old year funding if they believe they meet the criteria.

Since September 2017 working families who meet the eligibility criteria can also claim an additional 15 hours of funded childcare a week. This means that eligible children will be able to receive up to 1140 hours of funded childcare a year.

You can find out more information about any free and tax free childcare you are eligible for through Childcare Choices and an estimate of how much you could get to help pay for approved childcare.

Free childcare for two year olds

Check our childcare calculator below to see if your two year old is eligible for free childcare, and apply online.

If eligible, this funding starts from the start of the term beginning on or following 1 January, 1 April or 1 September following your child's second birthday.

You'll need information about you and your partner (if you have one), including:

  • How much you spend on childcare
  • Any benefits you or your child get
  • Your income

Check your eligibility for free childcare for your two year old and apply online

Downloadable application form for free childcare for your two year old

If you have any queries view our free childcare for two year olds FAQs.

Three and four year olds - 15 hours a week

Every child is entitled to receive 15 hours a week free childcare for 38 weeks of the year.

Funded places can be accessed as below:

  • Children born in the period 1January to 31 March: the start of term beginning on or following 1 April after the child's birthday
  • Children born in the period 1 April to 31 August: the start of term beginning on or following 1 September after the child's birthday
  • Children born in the period 1 September to 31 December: the start of term beginning on or following 1 January after the child's birthday

You can use the funding with childminders, pre-school playgroups or nurseries which are registered with Herefordshire Council to provide this childcare.

Three and four year olds - 30 hours a week

Eligible working parents of three and four year olds could have 30 hours of free childcare a week over 38 weeks, which is equal to 1,140 hours a year. You can choose to spread it over more than 38 weeks a year at a lower rate.

The 30 hours extended free childcare is available to eligible working parents of three and four year olds who already access, or will access, the existing universal 15 hours free childcare.

You must register and complete a successful application to receive an eligibility reference number.

Check your eligibility and sign up on the government childcare website for your reference number

Sign up should take about 20 minutes.

Once you have successfully completed the application you will receive a DfE Eligibility Reference Number (DERN). You should take this, along with a note of your National Insurance number and evidence of the date of birth of the child, to your chosen childcare provider as proof of your eligibility.

Applications should be made prior to the 31 March, 31 August and 31 December for funding to be accessed in the term beginning on or following 1 April, 1 September or 1 January.

30 hours free childcare provision FAQs

How you can use your free childcare hours

Children are entitled to a maximum of 570 hours per year. These will usually be offered as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks a year. However, the funded early education hours may only be available within set times and sessions so you will need to speak to your childcare provider to see if the hours they offer suit your needs.

However, you won't be able to:

  • Have any time before 6am or after 8pm
  • Have a session longer than 10 hours
  • Claim more than 15 hours a week
  • Claim more than 570 hours per year
  • Use the funding at more than two sites in one day

Some childcare providers may be able to stretch the hours throughout the year rather than just during term time. So, for example, you could receive 11.2 hours per week for a maximum of 51 weeks a year. If this would suit you better speak to the childcare provider to see if they are able to offer you a more flexible option.

You have the choice to only take the free entitlement of hours if that is all you require. Your child can take a packed lunch if you do not wish to purchase a meal from your childcare provider.

If you claim the childcare element of working tax credit, you must tell HM Revenue and Customs that you are using our free provision.

It is the provider's responsibility to claim the funding for these free hours. It will be paid directly to the provider once your child is registered with them. Providers work on a first-come, first-served places so contact your preferred provider and book a place before you want your child to attend.

What you can expect from your childcare provider

Childcare providers can set which sessions or days are available for free childcare places. They can charge a different rate for extra hours in addition to the free funded hours, but they must ensure parents are made aware of this before accepting.

Childcare providers cannot attach any special conditions on children accessing their free places, for example, they cannot make you take all your funded entitlement with them or insist that you pay for extra sessions or lunches to access your free place.

Childcare payments and billing

Herefordshire Council pays your chosen childcare provider directly for the free hours you receive. Childcare providers cannot charge a 'top up' fee (the difference between their usual fee and the funding they receive from the local authority to deliver funded places) or require the parents to pay a registration or administration fee as a condition of taking up their child's funded place, as set out in section 16 of Herefordshire's Funding Agreement.

If you require additional childcare hours any bill or invoice you receive should be clear and should not show the free funded hours deducted from the total bill. You do not have to buy any additional hours or services such as lunches or uniform to receive the free funded hours. However, if you decide to purchase additional services, these will be charged for by the childcare provider and shown clearly on your invoice or bill.

Voluntary contribution requests should be clearly outlined and state what the contribution is for. You are under no obligation to pay the voluntary contribution and they are not a condition of you receiving a funded place.