There are different options for funding childcare. Find the right one for you on the Childcare Choices website.
15 hours free childcare
Every 3- and 4-year-old in England is entitled to 15 hours of free childcare or early education per week, for 38 weeks.
This is a total of 570 hours per year, that you can use flexibly with one or more childcare provider.
Some providers will allow you to ‘stretch’ the hours over 52 weeks, using fewer hours per week.
How to apply
Funding is paid directly to the childcare provider. Your childcare provider will ask you to complete a form each term and they sort out the funding – you do not need to do anything else.
Our directory of support services lists providers approved by Ofsted.
Who is eligible for the 15 hour offer? SHOW
All 3- and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week (570 hours a year) of free early years education.
We are also able to offer some places to eligible 2-year-olds.
When can my child start receiving 3- and 4-year-old funding? SHOW
You can start receiving funding the term after your child turns 3. Children become entitled for a funded place on 1 January, 1 April and 1 September.
|Child's 3rd birthday||When your child can start|
|1 January - 31 March||Summer term (1 April - 31 August)|
|1 April - 31 August||Autumn term (1 September - 31 December)|
|1 September - 31 December||Spring term (1 January - 31 March)|
Where the Easter holiday falls does not affect eligibility.
If you would like your child to attend a pre-school or other provider before their 3-year-old funding starts you will need to pay until your child is eligible for the funding, unless your child is eligible for a funded 2-year-old place.
How many hours of early education funding can my child have? SHOW
Your child is entitled to 570 hours of early education.
This can be used across a minimum of 38 weeks, and a maximum of 15 hours per week. For many children this will mean 3 hours a day during school term times.
You can 'stretch' your child's entitlement by taking fewer hours a week over more weeks of the year, where the provider has capacity to offer this.
The following standards apply:
- No session to be longer than 10 hours
- No minimum session length (subject to the requirements of registration on the Ofsted Early Years Register)
- Not before 6am or after 8pm
- A maximum of two sites in a single day
You will need to speak to your chosen provider about the availability and times of sessions available.
You may be entitled to up to 30 hours per week or 1140 hours per year for children where their parents meet certain criteria.
Where can I use the funded hours? SHOW
The free early education and childcare can be taken in a variety of settings in Southampton.
It's available at participating:
- School nursery classes
- Nurseries or pre-schools on school sites
- Independent schools
- Nurseries or pre-schools in Children’s Centres
- Day nurseries
- Sessional providers (e.g. playgroups)
- After school clubs
- Childminders (childminders cannot be funded for a child to whom they are related)
All settings that offer nursery education must be registered with Ofsted. Providers of funded early education places are usually judged as good or outstanding. Some settings with less than good or outstanding may be able to offer sessions.
You can use your entitlement at more than one provider, for example using a group provider and a childminder. We strongly recommend that you consider the impact on continuity of care for children when enabling children to take up their early education place at more than one provider, as some children find this very unsettling.
Settings may be run by private, voluntary, independent or maintained providers.
Does my child have to take up their funded hours of education? SHOW
Your child does not legally have to attend any type of education until the term after their 5th birthday. However, this is a very important stage for your child as it helps get them ready for school as well as preparing them for their future learning and successes.
From when your child is born up until the age of 5, their early years experience should be happy, active, exciting, fun and secure, and support their development, care and learning needs. Attending an early years setting will ensure that you and your child are supported during this important period.
You can choose to use only part of your entitlement e.g. two sessions per week.
Will I have to pay anything towards my child's place? SHOW
Funding is paid directly to the childcare provider. You will be asked by the provider to complete a declaration form. If you need to pay fees for the additional services provided (for example, if a nursery is looking after your child for more than the funded 15 or 30 hours in a week), the funding will be passed to you as a saving on your fees.
The 15 hours free childcare/early education offer is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables (such as nappies or sun cream), additional hours or additional activities (such as trips). Providers may charge a fee for these additions. If you choose to pay for these it is an arrangement between you and the childcare provider. However, you must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 15 hour place and must be offered alternative options.
Your childcare provider or the Family Information Service can give you more information about any additional fees and charges which may be payable.
30 hours free childcare
Working parents of 3- and 4-year-olds whose qualify for extended funding may be entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare, for 38 weeks of the year (or fewer hours over more weeks). This is an extra 15 hours of free childcare on top of the 15 hours universal entitlement for 3- and 4-year-olds in England.
Who is eligible for the 30 hour offer? SHOW
You, and any partner, must each expect to earn (on average) at least £152 per week (equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage).
If you, or your partner, are on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or you're unable to work because you are disabled or have caring responsibilities, you could still be eligible.
You can't get 30 hours free childcare if either you, or your partner, each individually expect to earn £100,000 or more.
Details of the criteria and how to apply can be found on the Government 30 hour website.
I have already applied for an account with HMRC - how can I access it? SHOW
View this guide on how parent's who have applied for the 30 hours can access their account.
I have had technical issues trying to access the 30 hour offer SHOW
If haven’t been able to complete your application and get your 30 hours free childcare code for technical reasons, you should call HMRC on 0300 123 4097.
There is also a guide for claiming compensation or a top-up refund.
What isn't covered? SHOW
The 30 hours free childcare offer is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables (such as nappies or sun cream), additional hours or additional activities (such as trips). Providers may charge a fee for these additions. If you choose to pay for these it is an arrangement between you and the childcare provider. However, you must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 30 hour place, and must be offered alternative options.