Free Early Education for 3 and 4 Year Olds

Children are entitled to 570 hours of FREE early education or childcare a year.  This is often taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year, starting at the school term after a child turns 3 years old. 


You can use any of the following as long as they are Ofsted registered and are included on the local authority list to provide the entitlement:

  • Day nurseries 
  • Pre schools 
  • Nursery schools 
  • Nursery classes 
  • Independent schools 
  • Childminders

We cannot fund any other types of care, including family arrangements.

Some childcare providers offer places more flexibly, you may be able to stretch the free sessions over more weeks of the year by using less hours each week.  Speak to the providers to see what they can offer.

The Children and Families Information Service can help you to find a provider, call 03457 125 737 or email

If your child's third birthday falls between:

Your child will become eligible from:

1 January and 31 MarchThe start of the Summer Term (April)
1 April and 31 AugustThe start of the Autumn Term (September)
1 September and 31 DecemberThe start of the Spring Term (January)

Some two year olds are also entitled to free childcare it will depend on the child's circumstances or family income. To find out more go to: Free childcare for 2 year olds.

Childcare providers are required to offer the free entitlement which complies with the following limits. Providers will decide when they are able to offer free entitlement hours as not all providers will be able to offer all the options.

  • The minimum length of a session is 2 ½ hours 
  • The maximum length of a session is 10 hours in any one day 
  • The 15 hours can be taken over minimum of 2 days

Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is extra government funding that supports children's development, learning and care.

The extra funding which is paid to the free entitlement provider can be used to assist the improvement of a child's early education. For example, by investing in additional staff training and resources to help enhance and further expertise in specialised areas, such as speech and language.

Early Years Pupil Premium child and family eligibility criteria

Eligible Children are:

Their family is in receipt of:

  • Income-based Jobseeker Allowance
  • Income-related Income support
  • 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 (provided they're not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • *Working Tax Credit run-on, which is paid for 4 weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit (net income threshold up to £7,400 per annum)

*If the family is in receipt of Working Tax Credit for more than the 4 weeks 'run-on', then the family do not meet the qualifying criteria

  • Your child has been looked after by a local authority for one day or more
  • Your child has been adopted from care
  • Your child has left care under a special guardianship order or residence order

If any of the above applies to you please print and return the following application to your Free Entitlement Provider

EYPP Application Form (DOC 105KB)

Parents can APPLY NOW at Childcare Choices

The current universal entitlement for all 3 and 4 years olds will continue to be 15 hours per week for 38 weeks (570 hours) of early education.

The new entitlement is an extension of the current entitlement and provides an additional 15 hours of free childcare for children where parents are eligible.

30 Hours - eligibility criteria:

Parents of three and four year olds will need to meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for 30 hours:

  • They earn or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months
  • This equates to £120 a week (or £6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 a week (or £5,800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old
  • This applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on zero hours contract
  • The parent (and their partner where applicable) should be seeking the free childcare to enable them to work
  • Where one or both parents are on maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or if they are on statutory sick leave
  • Where one parent meets the income criteria and the other is unable to work because they are disabled, have caring responsibilities or have been assessed as having limited capability to work
  • Where a parent is in a 'start-up period' (i.e. they are newly self-employed) they do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months
  • If a non-EEA national. the parent must have recourse to public funds

*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 NMW or NLW.

Who will not qualify?

A parent will not meet the criteria when:

  • Either parent has an income of more than £100,000
  • Either parent is a non-EEA national and subject to immigration control (and has no recourse to public funds)

What happens if a parent loses eligibility?

  • They will receive a 'grace period' - this means they will be able to keep their childcare for a short period
  • Once the 'grace period' has lapsed, the parent may be entitled to the universal 15 hour entitlement

Grace period eligibility timescales

Date Parent receives ineligible decision on reconfirmation:

Date local authority checks eligibility:

Grace period end date:

1 Jan - 10 Feb

11 February

31 March

11 Feb - 31 March

1 April

31 August

1 April - 26 May

27 May

31 August

27 May - 31 August

1 September

31 December

1 September - 21 October

22 October

31 December

22 October - 31 December

1 January

31 March

Proposed Eligibility checking process (posted March 2017)

Parents will be asked by HMRC to register with them to check if they are entitled to a 30 hour place.  Parents will then be given an eligibility code.

Parents will then be asked to present their eligibility code, National Insurance number and the child's Date of Birth (DOB) to the provider of their choice.

The provider will then complete an electronic check through Cumbria County Council to verify their eligibility.  Cumbria County Council is exploring an electronic system to enable providers to do this check.  More information will be provided when this is available, however in the meantime we would recommend that the provider attempts to identify families who may be eligible.

Parents will be expected to verify their continued eligibility every three months with HMRC, if they do not continue to be eligible, the additional hours will cease at the end of a notice period (to be determined) this is going to be known as the grace period. 

Childcare providers intending to offer extended childcare from September 2017

Please find below a list of childcare providers who have indicated that they intend to offer extended hours from September 2017.  Please be aware places will be dependent on availability so contact your preferred childcare provider as soon as possible.

Eligible families must apply to the childcare choices website by 31 August to be able to access extended childcare hours in September, by 31 December to access extended hours in January and by 31 March to access places in April.

List of Childcare Providers intending to offer extended hours from September 2017 (PDF 139kb)

 Title  Date  Size
7/08/2017 548k
22/05/2017 1109k
8/02/2018 372k
22/05/2017 951k
22/05/2017 438k
22/05/2017 2765k
22/05/2017 904k

Early years research clearly show that good quality early education does benefit children in the long term, particularly the most disadvantaged.  It has also shown that high quality pre-school provision enhances children's social, physical and mental development, as well as helping them to prepare for school, giving them the best start in life.

Children will meet and play with other children, this will help them to build their confidence, the areas of learning include:

  • Communication and language 
  • Physical development 
  • Personal, social and emotional development

Your child will:

  • Experience new and exciting activities 
  • Make new friends 
  • Build their confidence and social skills 
  • Improve their speech and language

As a parent free early education can help you:

  • Save on childcare costs 
  • Have time to explore work and/or training opportunities 
  • Take on more paid work 
  • Support your child to play and learn 
  • Have more time to yourself

To apply for a nursery attached to a school please ring the School Admissions Team on 01228 221582 or visit the county council website

To apply to a private, voluntary or independent provider please ask them directly for an application form.