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Free Childcare for 3 and 4 year olds - 30 hours (Extended Entitlement)

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3 and 4 year old children whose parents are working may be entitled to an extra 15 hours a week of flexible free childcare entitling them to 30 hours a week for at least 38 weeks a year (1140 hours a year). 

Free childcare is an opportunity for your child to join in play based activities in a quality environment to support their developmental learning journey and prepare them for school.

Childcare providers offer various models of flexibility when delivering free childcare/ early education. Some providers will allow you to ‘stretch’ your 30 hours entitlement over 52 weeks, using fewer hours per week.You will need to check directly with your preferred provider if they can offer this flexibility.

Apply for 30 Hours


Is my child eligible?

Check eligibility criteria

The additional hours will be available to families where:

  • Both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family);
  • Both parents are working includes circumstances where:
    • One or both parents are temporarily away from the workplace on parental, adoption, maternity or paternity leave;
    • One or both parents are temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick pay;
    • One parent is employed and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring; or
    • One parent is employed and one parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits.
  • Each parent has a weekly minimum income equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage (parents do not necessarily need to actually work 16 hours a week, but rather their earnings must reflect at least 16 hours of work at national minimum wage or national living wage), 
  • Neither parent has an income of more than £100,000 per year.

The definition of 'working' will include employed and self-employed persons and parents on zero hours contracts who meet the criteria.

Many parents have irregular work patterns and the government are keen that the childcare is offered flexible to meet parent's needs. Parents who are studying and grandparents or other family members with parental responsibility for a child aged 3 or 4 will be eligible for the extended entitlement if they meet the above criteria.

Important - if your child is in reception, you can't get free childcare. Once your child is of compulsory school age, they're no longer eligible.

You're not eligible if:

  • you're in receipt of a childcare grant
  • you're a full-time student/an intern
  • you're not entitled to receive public funds.

When will my child be eligible?

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

When can I apply?

Age of child When does my child's 30 hours start Recommended apply date Take your code to your provider (Deadline)
3 or 4 on or before 31 March  April  Apply from January  By 31 March 

3 or 4 on or before 31 August

September  Apply from April  By 31 August 

3 or 4 on or before 31 December 

January  Apply from September  By 31 December 

Checking your eligibility

To find out if you’re eligible for 30 hours, enter your details into the Childcare Choices website.

Find out if your are eligible for 30 hours during Covid-19 pandemic

If you are eligible, you will need to apply for 30 hours childcare scheme via the Childcare Service webpage (see How to apply).

The Childcare Choices website also allows you to:

  • check your eligibility for each of the childcare schemes
  • find out more about each scheme
  • sign up for a scheme or register for email alerts (if not available yet)
  • find out what you need to do next

The website allows you to select how much you earn, followed by whether or not you live with a partner. You will then be presented with your options highlighted in yellow (schemes you do not quality for will be greyed out). Under each available option you will see: “Is it for me?”. Selecting this will display further details and direct you to the relevant place such as online registration, calculators, email alerts, or GOV.UK pages. 

How to apply

Apply for 30 hours

  • You will see an explanation of the application process. Below this paragraph you should see a green button that says “Start Now”
  • You will be asked to sign in or set up a Government Gateway Account if you don't already have one.
  • You will then be asked questions about you and your partner, including your National Insurance Number and income.
  • At the end of the process you will have set up your Childcare Service Account.
  • If you are eligible to receive the 30 hours, you will be given an 11-digit 'eligibility code'. You can see this in your 'secure messages' section of your Childcare Service Account.

Check out the video below that explains how to apply for 30 hours childcare and Tax-Free Childcare online

How to apply for 30 hours free childcare

From your Childcare Service Account you can also:

    • access “secure messages”
    • view or update your details
    • access a Tax Free Childcare account
    • reconfirm your code (done every 3 months)
    • submit a new application
    • update your security details such as your password and security questions

Once you have got your 30 hours code...

  • You take the eligibility code to your chosen childcare provider to 'book' a place. The code will be validated by the childcare provider before a place is offered to your child.
  • Upon successfully validating the eligibility code, parent and childcare provider agree on a date when the provision will begin.
  • Your child is admitted into the provision for the length of the validity period.
  • You will receive notification to reconfirm your eligibility for 30 hours' before the validity end date. You confirm that your circumstances have not changed since the initial application or update the application if it has.

Tip: if you want your child to receive the 30 hours offer from the first day of each term then you must apply and receive your 30 hours code by deadline dates (31 August, 31 December, and 31 March). See When can I apply? 

If you are struggling to access your account, please contact the HMRC helpline on 0300 123 4097

Where can I get the 30 hours free childcare?

Day-nurseries, childminders and playgroups that are registered on the Early Years Register, and childminders registered with an Ofsted-registered Childminder Agency can deliver the 30 hours entitlement in full, or work in partnership with other providers to deliver
part of it. Schools can also offer 30 hours.

Please note not all school will offer the 30 hours free childcare and some school nurseries may only take your child / children from the September following their 3rd birthday, however you can still access your 30 hours free childcare at a day nursery, pre-school playgroup or childminder from the term following their 3rd birthday, and then they can then transfer to a school nursery that offers the 30 hours in the September.

Show me childcare providers who provide the 30 hours free childcare

Reconfirming your eligibility

If you have applied and/or have claimed up to 30 hours of free childcare, you must reconfirm your eligibility. You must do this even if your child hasn't started their 30 hours place. You must do this 3 months from the date you applied to receive their extra hours. You must do this every 3 months.

How do I reconfirm?

  1. You will get a text and/or email 4 weeks before your reconfirmation deadline. This will prompt you to log into your Childcare Service account.
  2. In the account you must go to 'secure messages'. You can access this section at any time. The section on reconfirmation will inform you of your reconfirmation date.
  3. You can reconfirm your eligibility up to 4 weeks before your reconfirmation date.

The reconfirmation process may differ for some parents. Such as if:

  • your circumstances haven't changed you will need to tick a box to confirm this. You will not receive a new code but the existing one will get extended for 3 more months
  • your circumstances have changed you must amend and resubmit your details
  • you completed your original application over the phone. You will need to phone the Customer Interaction Centre to reconfirm your eligibility
  • you currently have a temporary code (these start with 11) you must complete a new application. You must do this through your childcare service account to get a permanent code

How do I access my account

You can access your account through the Childcare Service Webpage

What if I miss the reconfirmation deadline?

If you miss the deadline, or if your circumstances change, you will get a message to say your eligibility has ended. You will be able to keep your childcare place for the grace period - this means you are able to keep your childcare for a short period of time. You should discuss this with your childcare provider.

Once the “grace period” has lapsed, you should still be entitled to the universal 15 hour entitlement. If you have been taking up the extended entitlement at more than one provider, the local authority should continue to fund 15 hours at the provider of your choice. You should also check Childcare Choices to see if you have become eligible for a different scheme

You'll need to submit another application if you become eligible again for 30 hours or Tax-Free Childcare after you've:

  • fallen out of eligibility
  • missed the reconfirmation deadline

You must present your code to your provider again to confirm.

What to do if you have lost your 30 hours eligibility code

Find out here how to access your Governement Gateway account and retrieve your 30 hours eligibility code if you have already applied for 30 hours free childcare and/ or Tax-Free Childcare through the childcare service.

  1. To sign into your account, visit the Childcare Service.  Sign in to your account 
  2. Once you have selected to sign in, you will be asked to sign in using your Government Gateway ID, which you would have received when you applied.
  3. Once you have signed in using the Government Gateway, you will then see the childcare account screen:
  4. You can then click on “30 hours free childcare” to see your 30 hours eligibility code. These normally start with “500”.
  5. You will also find this code in your “secure messages”.
  6. There may be a small number of parents who have a temporary code, starting “11…” You will have been given this over the phone, and will receive a letter containing this from HMRC too.

If you are still struggling to access your account, please contact the HMRC helpline on 0300 123 4097.

30 hours for Foster Carers

3 and 4 year old children in foster care will be eligible for 30 hours of childcare if their foster carers meet the eligibility criteria and it is consistent with the child’s care plan. You must speak to your supervising social worker to see if you meet the criteria before completing an application form.

Eligibility Criteria

Children in foster care will be able to receive 30 Hours Funded Childcare the term after the child turns 3 if the following criteria are met:

  • Accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan, placing the child at the centre of the process and decision making,
  • The foster carers must live in England

In single parent foster families:

  • The foster carer must engage in paid work outside their role as a foster carer (no set minimum hours)
  • The foster carer does not earn more than £100,000 a year

In two-parent foster families:

  • Both partners engage in paid work outside their role as a foster carer (no set minimum hours)
  • The foster carers do not earn more than £100,000 a year each
  • If one partner is working outside fostering and the other partner is in receipt of the following qualifying benefits:
    • Universal Credit - assessed as having limited capability for work
    • National Insurance credits because of incapacity or limited capability for work
    • Carer’s Allowance
    • Employment and Support Allowance
    • Incapacity Benefit
    • Severe Disablement Allowance

In families where only one person is the approved foster carer:

  • The approved foster carer must engage in paid work outside their role as a foster carer
  • The partner (of the foster carer) is in qualifying paid work and earning a minimum of the equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum/national living wage and does not earn more than £100,000 a year OR
  • The partner (of the foster carer) is in receipt of the following qualifying benefits:
    • Universal Credit - assessed as having limited capability for work
    • National Insurance credits because of incapacity or limited capability for work
    • Carer’s Allowance
    • Employment and Support Allowance
    • Incapacity Benefit
    • Severe Disablement Allowance

How to apply

The application must be made to Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council who is the Corporate Parent of the child; if the corporate parent is another Local Authority you must contact them for an application form.

The child is eligible for 3 and 4 year old funding the term after their 3rd birthday. 3 and 4 years olds can start in a 30 hours place from the September, January or April.

Foster Carer 30 Hours Application Form

Application process:

  • Download and complete the application form 
  • Once you and your partner (if applicable) have completed and signed this form, you must supply evidence of paid employment outside of your fostering responsibilities; this can be in the form of copies of pay slips or employment contracts.
  • The completed form and your employment evidence must be sent to the Quality Early Years and Childcare Team to be checked and authorised.
  • Once your application is processed you will be notified of the outcome. You will receive an email/letter from the team, containing your unique 11 digits 30-hour code beginning with ‘400’.  You must take this code to your chosen Early Years and Childcare Provider, who will validate the code and confirm your 30-hour place for the child.
  • Your code can be used at any Early Years and Childcare provider that is registered to offer Early Education Funding in any English Local Authority, although there is an expectation that this will be at a provider who had a Good, Outstanding or Requires Improvement Ofsted rating. Search for Registered Childcare
  • Your code will need to be renewed by Sandwell Quality Early Years and Childcare Team every 3 months, and you will need to contact us to renew this and confirm that your circumstances have not changed and that you still meet the criteria.

If you are applying for your own children use Childcare Choices

For further information contact the Quality Early Years and Childcare Team on 0121 569 4960 or via email

What if you are not eligible

What If you’re not eligible?

If you have checked your eligibility and you are not eligible for 30 hours' then:

  • you should still be entitled to take up your child’s universal entitlement to 15 free hours, provided you have not exceeded the number of hours of entitlement

  • you may be eligible for another scheme; Childcare Choices will show you your eligibility for other schemes

Appealing a decision

An appeals process is available to those who disagree with the eligibility decision they receive. The review and appeals process is managed by HM Revenues and Customs on 0300 123 4097.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many weeks of the year is 30 hours available?

Working families are entitled to 30 hours in each of the 38 weeks of the academic year. Parents can choose to stretch this offer over up to 52 weeks of the year where this meets their childcare needs, for instance 22 hours a week for 52 weeks, or just under 24 hours for 48 weeks.

Is it childcare or early education?

All funded provision must deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. There is no difference in the education and care standards which must be met for both the universal 15 hour and extended 30 hour entitlements.

Can I use any childcare setting that I like?

All Ofsted registered childcare providers across Sandwell will be able to offer the additional 15 hours childcare for eligible parents/carers if they have the space to do so.  It is a provider’s choice whether they deliver the 30 hours entitlement or not. They can choose to offer some or all of the hours. Parents are free to shop around to find appropriate funded provision.

Do I have to take up the full 30 hours?

No you can chose to take as many hours as you need, however, you will need to check with your childcare provider if they are able to accomodate your requirements. 

What if my provider is full and they cannot offer the extra hours that I need?

The majority of providers in Sandwell work in close partnerships with other providers in their local area to deliver early education and childcare provision therefore they may be able to signpost you to other local provision which can meet your needs.  The Family Information Service will also be able to provide you with details of other childcare provision available within the area that you are seeking childcare. They can be contacted on 0121 569 4914 or email

How will quality be maintained?

Providers will be expected to maintain a clear focus on the experience of children and the quality of their provision and as such, all funded hours must meet Early Years Foundation Stage and Ofsted requirements.

Can I split the hours over more than one setting?

Yes, parents are allowed to split their free childcare across two providers per day.

Can I use my free childcare across the whole year?

Yes, the extended childcare offer has been introduced to support parents to have better access to more flexible childcare whilst at work, and to enable you to increase the number of hours worked. This means you can use your childcare to cover school holidays if you need to. If you use your childcare in term time only you will be entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week. If you use it over the whole year, you will be entitled to approximately 22.6 hours per week.

Do I already need to be attending the childcare provider that I am planning to send my child to when the additional hours begin in September?

No, your child does not need to be currently attending a provider in order to claim their free hours there - the only requirements are that the provider you apply to is Ofsted registered and approved to offer Free Early Education (FEE) places, and that they have space to take your child.

My child has special needs - will they receive sufficient care in the additional funded hours?

Every family should have access to good quality childcare that meets their needs. The Government is considering ways to make sure providers have adequate support to meet the requirements of children with special educational needs and disabilities in the additional funded hours.

Are the 30 hours totally free?

Some providers may charge for meals, snacks or optional extras as these may not always be included within the universal / extended entitlement. If you take more than your total entitlement there is likely to be a charge from your provider for these additional hours. Please check with your provider for full details of any additional charges.

Will the 15 hour entitlements continue?

All three and four year olds, and the most disadvantaged two-year olds, continue to be entitled to 15 hours early education a week.

    Further information

    If you require any further information on the 30 hours free childcare - 3 and 4 year old extended entitlement please contact Sandwell Family Information Service on 0121 569 4914 or visit Childcare Choices for further details.

    Help to find a childcare place

    The Brokerage Service provides help to families who are unable to find a 3 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 you need any help finding suitable childcare then contact us and we’ll do our best to help you.

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

    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