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

All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year and the children of some working parents may be eligible for 1140 hours. This is often taken as 15 or 30 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. Some two-year-olds are also eligible.

You can find out more information about any free and tax free childcare you are eligible for through Childcare Choices gov.uk 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.

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

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. This funding starts from the term after their third birthday and will remain in place until the start of their Reception Year at school.

You can use the funding with childminders, pre-school playgroups or nurseries which are registered with Herefordshire Council to provide this childcare. It is the provider's job 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 childcare provider and book a place before you want your child to attend.

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. 

How you can use your free childcare hours

Different providers give you different ways to use the free hours you are entitled to. Normally you must use the hours:

  • Either termly (over 38 weeks) or spread over the full year (51 weeks) if available at your chosen childcare provider
  • From a minimum of 2.5 hours to a maximum of 10 hours in day
  • From a minimum of 2 days to a maximum of 5 days a week
  • Between the hours of 7am and 7pm
  • For a minimum period of two consecutive weeks
  • Shared between a maximum of two providers

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 job 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. You do not have to pay towards any free funded hours. Childcare providers are not allowed to invoice you for any difference between their own charges and the payments they receive from Herefordshire Council. 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.