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Free Childcare for 3 and 4 year olds - 15 hours (Universal Entitlement)

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free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds

All 3 and 4 year old children are entitled to a maximum of 570 hours of free childcare a year (15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year). Your child can normally access this from the term after their third birthday.

Free childcare is an opportunity for your child to play and learn in a quality environment that will help to extend their skills and experiences, develop their confidence and prepare them for school.

Childcare providers offer various models of flexibility when delivering free childcare/ early education. You will need to check directly with your preferred provider if they can offer the attendance pattern that you require for your child.

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How do I apply for a place?

To access the 15 hours free childcare you will need to get in touch with the childcare provider / school nursery you would like your child to go to. 

Your preferred childcare provider / school nursery will then take you through the application process and how to visit the nursery and talk to the staff.

Childcare providers offering free 15 hours childcare for 3 and 4 year olds.

When can my child start?

The date you can start a funded place depends on your child's birthday.

   Child's Birthday

When can your child start?

    1 January to 31 March

The beginning of Summer term on or after 1 April

    1 April to 31 August

The beginning of Autumn term on or after 1 September

    1 September to 31 December

The beginning of Spring term on or after 1 January

Where can I get the 15 hours free childcare?

The childcare provider you choose must be registered with Ofsted and follow the Early Years Foundation Stage framework.

All children are entitiled to start their free 15 hours early years place the term AFTER their 3rd birthday.

School nurseries may only offer a place from the start of the Autumn term (September).

Attendance at a school nursery does not guarantee a Reception place at that school. For further information on the school admissions process visit Sandwell Schools Admissions


Children with a special educational need (SEN) or a disability

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on all providers to:

  • Make reasonable adjustments for disabled children
  • Not treat a disabled child less favourably

The Special Educational Need (SEN) Code of Practice 2014 has the following fundamental principles that providers in receipt of Government Early Education Funding must have regard to:

  • A child with special educational needs should have their needs met
  • The special educational needs of children will normally be met in mainstream schools or settings
  • The views of the child should be sought and taken into account
  • Parents should have a vital role to play in supporting their child's education
  • Children with special educational needs should be offered full access to a broad, balanced and relevant education, including an appropriate curriculum for the Foundation Stage and the National Curriculum.

If your child has specific needs further support is available from our specialist Brokerage Service

More information on choosing childcare for a child with a special educational need or disability

Help to find a childcare place

The Brokerage Service provides help to families who are unable to find a 3 and 4 year old funded place. They will discuss your needs with you and provide advice and information on the availability of places in your area.

If your child has specific needs further support is available from the Brokerage Team.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many hours will my child get?

  • Your child is entitled to 570 hours of early education funded hours over an academic year.  
  • You can access a maximum of 15 hours per week over school term time (minimum of 38 weeks)
  • You can also access your free 15 hours as a stretched offer. 
  • The stretched offer will give you the same total number of free hours per year, but spreads them over both the term time and some or all, of the school holidays.
  • Your childcare provider will tell you if they offer the stretched offer.

Can my child go to more than one childcare provider?

  • If you are using more than one childcare provider make sure each provider knows that your child is attending another provider. 
  • If you use more than one provider, up to a maximum of two, each provider must agree the total number of hours per term they offering you.  
  • It is really important that you do not receive more per term in total than your entitlement otherwise you will need to pay for the extra hours. 
  • The two providers must also offer the entitlement over the same amount of weeks.
  • Add the hours per week together if you are using more than one provider to make sure the total no more than 15 hours per week (fewer if delivered under a stretched offer).

Can my child attend for more than 15 hours a week ?

If your child attends for more than 15 hours a week, you will have to pay for the extra childcare hours. Your provider must notify you at the beginning of the term if your childcare is going to exceed the funding limit.

What times are the sessions offered?

Free early education sessions offered by a provider must be between 2.5 hours and 10 hours per day between the hours of 7am and 7pm.

Where sessional care is offered these session can be:

  • 5 hours per day over 3 days
  • 3 hours per day over 5 days

If your child is attending a nursery within a school for 15 hours this is your total free entitlement.

You must not make a claim from another provider.

If your child attends a school nursery for less than 15 hours, you can take the remainder of your entitlement at a second provider.

What happens if I want to move my child to another childcare provider?

We don't recommend moving your child during the academic term as it is in a child’s best interest to be settled with a provider, and funding cannot be transfered to a new provider before the start of the next term. 

If you do wish to move your child, then you need to arrange this before the start of a term. You'll also need to give your current provider notice of your plans as soon as you can.

How to make a complaint

How to make a complaint about the free childcare for 2, 3 and 4 year olds or issues with the quality of the setting

We are aware that sometimes things don’t work out and that you may encounter difficulties such as:

  • applying for a free childcare funded place
  • issues with the quality of the setting
  • reconfirming their 30 hours eligibility code

So that these issues can be sorted out as quickly as possible, please see below who you will need to contact depending on your concerns:

Complaints in relation to funding issues

If you're not satisfied you have received your free entitlement in the correct way first:

  1. Talk to the setting as they'll have a complaints procedure.
  2. If it's not resolved, lodge a formal complaint through the providers complaints procedure.
  3. If you're still unhappy after exploring these options, email details of your complaint to

Complaints and issues with your 30 hours eligibility code

If you have a complaint or have any issues regarding your 30 hours eligibility code then please contact HMRC directly on 0300 123 4097

Complaints about childcare quality

If the complaint relates to quality issues, first speak to your setting. If it isn't resolved, contact Ofsted on 0300 123 1234

Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP)

If your child is 3 or 4 years old and receiving the universal 15 hours free childcare in Sandwell your childcare provider may be eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP), if you meet the eligibility criteria.

The Early Years Pupil Premium is extra funding paid to your registered childcare provider to support your child/children’s development, learning and care.

Your child/children will be eligible if you are in receipt of one or more of the following benefits (same criteria used to access eligibility for free school meals):

• Income Support
• Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
• Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
• Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
• The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
• Child tax credit (but not working tax credit) and earn no more than £16,190 a year.
• Working Tax Credit run-on (paid for 4 weeks after you stop receiving Working Tax Credit)
• Universal Credit and earn no more than £7,400 a year

You may also be eligible if your child:

  • is currently being looked after by a local authority in England or Wales
  • has left care in England or Wales through:
    • an adoption order
    • a special guardianship order
    • a child arrangements order

If you are not in receipt of one of the above benefits/credits you will not be eligible to apply.

How do I apply for Early Years Pupil Premium funding?

If your child attends a Day Nursery, Childminder or Pre School you will be asked to tick a box and sign when you complete your parent declaration to confirm that you are happy for your details to be checked for eligibility for EYPP via the funding portal.

If your child attends a school nursery, you will be asked to complete an EYPP form which will be used to check your eligibility.

How do I receive the Early Years Pupil Premium?

The Early Years Pupil Premium is paid directly to your childcare provider as part of their normal funding claim.

How can the extra funds help my child?

This extra funding can be used in lots of ways to give them the best start in life and prepare them for full time school.

For example, the funding can be used to provide;
• Specialist training for staff e.g. speech and language development
• Extra or individual support in a particular learning area
• Extra equipment to support particular development
• Additional staffing or staff hours to enable further support for your child

Early years and childcare providers will have to demonstrate to Ofsted, the regulator of these services, how they have used these extra funds to support your child.

Will I be involved in how the money is being spent?

Your child’s key person, as part of their ongoing communication, will continue to talk to you about your child’s time in the setting. 

What happens if my financial situation changes?

If your child is eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium, the childcare provider will continue to be paid until your child starts reception regardless of any change to your financial situation.

Disability Access Fund (DAF)

Additional funding is available for providers to support children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Children aged 3 and 4 years old, who are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and claiming an Early Education Funded place could be eligible to apply for the Disability Access Fund (DAF).

This could mean childcare providers could get access to £615 per calendar year for each eligible child that could aid in making reasonable adjustments at the setting and improve accessibility.

If you are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and would like your child's childcare provider to receive the DAF funding please complete the Disability Access Fund (DAF) Declaration Form and return it to the address on the form.

Contact Us if you would like to find out more information or have any questions.