Free early education for 2 year olds

If you are in a family living on a low income or claiming income based benefits, and your 2 year old has additional needs, or has left care, you may be entitled to free early education.

You may be entitled to claim up to 15 hours per week of free early education during term time, or up to 11 hours per week throughout the year.

Children will be given the opportunity to experience high quality early years education with the support of a trained, high quality registered childminder, nursery or pre-school.

The aim of the programme is to enable your child to receive high quality early education that will help them to be ready for school.

1. Eligibility

Free early education will be given in the following circumstances.

Family circumstances

If your 2 year old is from a family receiving:

  • income support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • tax credits and have an annual income under £15,400 before tax (from 1st April 2018)
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
  • universal credit

General circumstances

If any one of the following criteria are met, your 2 year old will also be eligible for free early education. 

If your 2 year old:

  • is eligible for free school meals
  • is from a family receiving Working Tax credits or Universal Credits, with annual gross earnings of no more than £15,400 per year
  • has a current statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an education, health and care plan
  • is eligible for Disability Living Allowance
  • is looked after by their local authority
  • has left care through special guardianship, or through an adoption or residence order

Find out more

This entitlement is available in the term after an eligible child’s second birthday. 

You should be able to keep your child at your preferred provider until they can access a school place, normally in the September after their third birthday.

Your entitlement will continue to be free regardless of whether your family’s financial circumstances change.

2. When to apply

You can apply when your child is 18 months old.

Any applications for children under 18 months old will not be processed.

Child’s second birthday

Entitled to their free place

Applications accepted

Between 1 January and 31 March  From the start of summer term in April  From January 
Between 1 April and 31 August  From the start of the autumn term in September  From April 
Between 1 September and 31 December  From the start of the spring term in January  From September 

3. How to apply

You can apply for free early education for your 2 year old using our online form.


Your details will be used to check if your child is eligible for a free place.

This information will also be used to register your family with your local children’s centre (if you are not already registered) so you are informed of local services that can benefit your family.

It can take a few weeks to process applications.

If your application has been successful, it will be placed into a central waiting list and you will be contacted once a placement becomes available.

Last updated: 17 August 2018
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