Funded Childcare Hours: What’s Available and How to Apply

Most families are entitled to some funded hours of childcare, when and how many will be dependent on where you live. Together with financial wellbeing experts, Nudge, we've put together a brief overview of what’s available and how to apply.

Getting funded childcare hours can reduce the amount you have to spend on childcare. Its availability and the number of hours on offer can vary according to where you live and the age of your child. This can appear a little complicated at first, but generally speaking in the UK, the minimum available will be 15 hours a week for three and four-year-olds. For some working parents it can be as much as 30 hours, while for some people claiming certain benefits, funded hours are available from the age of two.

In Scotland and Wales, there are changes happening to increase the provision of funded childcare, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this gradual rollout so you don’t miss out. Your local authority will have the most detailed information about exactly what is available in your area.

15 Hours Funded For 3 and 4 Year Olds

In England, a total of 570 hours a year of funded childcare is available to this age group for parents. This is 15 hours a week over 38 weeks each year, but you can take it as fewer hours over more weeks.

It must be with an ‘approved’ childcare provider (i.e. registered with the appropriate regulator) - not all providers are part of this scheme. You can usually get the hours at:

  • Nursery schools
  • Nurseries on school sites
  • Nursery classes in schools and academies
  • Children’s centres
  • Day nurseries
  • Some playgroups and pre-school
  • Childminders
  • Sure Start children’s centres

You can get the hours starting from the term after your child’s third birthday, and up until they start reception class or reach compulsory school age. Click here for more information.

In Scotland, all parents of 3 and 4 year olds, will be eligible to receive 1140 hours of funded childcare. Find out more here or from your local authority’s website.

In Northern Ireland, it is similar but with a few key differences. Funded childcare is known as funded pre-school. You get slightly fewer hours - 475 per year, working out as 12.5 hours per week, which must be taken as 2.5 hours a day over five days a week during term time. It is regarded as Early Years education rather than childcare and can’t be provided by childminders. Find out more from nidirect.

In Wales, you could claim 30 hours of early education and childcare week if they are eligible, with a guaranteed 10 hours per week for all three and four-year-olds over 48 weeks in a school or funded nursery as part of what’s known as the Foundation Phase. Find out more from the Welsh Government website or the Cardiff Council website.

For 2 Year Olds

In England and Scotland, parents claiming certain benefits (including some working benefits) and cared for children can access these funded hours when their child is younger. It’s available for those eligible from the term after the child’s second birthday. Find out more here.

In some areas in Wales, the Flying Start scheme offers some two and three-year-olds 2.5 hours per day free, five days a week over 39 weeks. Find out more about eligibility from Cardiff Flying Start or the Welsh Government website.

In Scotland, some two-year-olds can get up to 1,140 hours per year if the parent is receiving certain benefits. Find out more about eligibility here or from your local authority’s website.

30 Hours Funded For 3 and 4 Year Olds

An additional 15 hours of funded childcare is available for working parents in England earning a certain amount, bringing the total each week to 30 hours. You can usually still get these extra hours if you’re working and claiming Universal Credit, tax credits, Childcare Vouchers or Tax- Free Childcare. Find out more about eligibility for 30 hours here.

Bright Horizons offer 30 hours funded childcare for all eligible working families in England. To find out more click here.

In Wales, some working parents are eligible for an additional 20 hours of free childcare per week on top of the 10 hours of early education offered as part of the Foundation Phase. This means that some working parents could get up to 30 hours per week of free childcare and early education for 48 weeks per year. Visit the Cardiff Council Government funded childcare page or the Welsh Government website to find out more about eligibility.

In Scotland, 1140 hours is available to all children since August 2021. Do check your local authority’s website for details.

No additional hours are available in Northern Ireland.

How To Get Funded Childcare Hours

After checking your and your child’s eligibility, as well as the rules of the scheme where you are in more detail, you’ll need to apply for your funded hours via your local authority (except in Northern Ireland).

Here’s how you can find yours:

  • Search for your local authority in England here.
  • Search for your local council in Scotland here.
  • Search for your local Family Information Service in Wales here or Cardiff Family Support.
  • Search for schools near you in Northern Ireland here to find out more about their admissions process.

Top Tips

  • It’s always worth checking first if the provider you are considering supports the scheme to avoid any disappointment later.
  • You’ll want to think about how you spread out these hours (if your scheme allows the flexibility) and whether the provider is able to offer the dates and times you want.
  • You can usually use tax-free childcare alongside any funded hours you get.
  • You can split the free entitlement between multiple providers, though no more than two sites in one day along with some local authorities in Scotland (referred to as a split placement). Parents
  • It’s worth checking with each scheme what happens if your circumstances change. Your eligibility can change and it may be up to you to let the right people know.
  • In Scotland please check if you need to apply for your child’s funding via the nursery or directly with your Local Authority on line.
  • This calculator can help you better understand what may be available to you, wherever you are.