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What are free places?

Full terms and conditions for the funding of free places for 2, 3 and 4 years olds can be found in the provider agreement:

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PDF icon 2019 to 2020 provider agreement362.58 KB

Free places are also known as the ‘free entitlement(s)’ or ‘free hours’ and apply to:

  • the 15 hour entitlement for the most disadvantaged 2 year olds
  • the 15 hour entitlement for parents of 3 and 4 year olds (the universal entitlement)
  • the 30 hour entitlement for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds (the extended entitlement)

The DfE sets the dates of birth for the start of eligibility for the free entitlements, as set out in the table below. Term dates are not taken into account when accessing eligibility.

Dates when child becomes eligible

Child's second (where eligible) or third birthday falls between

Free entitlement starts

1 April and 31 August

Autumn term (September)

1 September and 31 December

Spring term (January)

1 January and 31 March

Summer term (April)

Before a provider can claim funding they must hold a signed parent declaration form and, if necessary, validate the eligibility code on the provider portal. For 30 hour codes, providers should confirm the earliest term from which funding can be claimed on the Bracknell Forest provider portal before offering a funded place.

Free places for 2 year olds

A child will be entitled to the free hours from the term after both of the following conditions are satisfied:

Eligible 2 year olds are entitled to a free place offering 570 hours a year over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year. The free entitlement may be stretched over more than 38 weeks (and up to 52 weeks) - see suggested weeks for further information. This means taking fewer hours per week, subject to a maximum of 570 hours a year.

Providers are required to check original documentation to confirm a child has reached the eligible age on initial registration for all free entitlements by checking their birth certificate or passport and recording this on the parent declaration form.

If a child is entitled to free hours a code will be issued to the parent which they can share with their chosen childcare provider.

Providers should offer places to eligible 2 year olds on the understanding that the child remains eligible until they become eligible for the universal entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds.

15 hours universal entitlement for all 3 and 4 year olds

A child is eligible to the free hours from the term after their third birthday.

Eligible 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to a free place offering 570 hours a year over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year, until the child reaches compulsory school age (the beginning of the term following their fifth birthday). The free entitlement may be stretched over more than 38 weeks (and up to 52 weeks) - see suggested weeks for further information. This means taking fewer hours per week, subject to a maximum of 570 hours a year.

Providers are required to check original documentation to confirm a child has reached the eligible age on initial registration for all free entitlements by checking their birth certificate or passport and recording this on the parent declaration form.

Children who have been admitted to primary school and are attending a state-funded or independent school reception class are not entitled to any additional free hours outside their school reception class place as local authorities can meet their duty to secure the universal entitlement through reception class provision.

A child who takes up their free hours part way through the year will be entitled to a pro-rata’d number of hours adjusted to reflect the portion of the year remaining.

All 3 and 4 year olds living in England are entitled to the universal entitlement irrespective of the immigration status of the child or their parent(s).

30 hours extended entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds of working parents

A child will be entitled to the extended entitlement from the term after both the following conditions are satisfied:

  • the child has attained the age of 3
  • the child’s parent has a current positive determination of eligibility from HMRC for example a valid 30 hours free childcare eligibility code

Eligible 3 and 4 year olds will be entitled to an additional 570 hours, making a total of 1,140 hours a year over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year, until the child reaches compulsory school age (the beginning of the term following their fifth birthday). The free entitlement may be stretched over more than 38 weeks (and up to 52 weeks) - see suggested weeks for further information. This means taking fewer hours per week, subject to a maximum of 570 hours a year.

Providers are required to check original documentation to confirm a child has reached the eligible age on initial registration for all free entitlements by checking their birth certificate or passport and recording this on the parent declaration form.

Children who have been admitted to primary school and are attending a state-funded or independent school reception class are not entitled to any additional free hours outside their school reception class place as local authorities can meet their duty to secure the universal entitlement through reception class provision.

A child who takes up their free hours part way through the year will be entitled to a pro-rata’d number of hours adjusted to reflect the portion of the year remaining.

30 hours eligibility codes

The child’s parent must apply for the extended entitlement through the Government’s online service Childcare Choices. Eligibility for the extended entitlement is determined by HMRC through this online application. The only exception to this is children in foster care.

Parents who are unable to send information by electronic communication due to age, disability, inability to operate a computer effectively with the use of assisted digital support or where they live in remote locations where electronic communications are not practicable must call the HMRC Customer Interaction Centre on 0300 123 4097 who will provide support on making an application through the electronic system (by an employee or agent of HMRC) using information that is supplied by the applicant over the phone.

30 hours grace period

Eligibility codes are valid for 3 months. It is the provider’s responsibility to check the expiration dashboard on the provider portal regularly. Whilst HMRC will send 2 email reminders to the parents, providers are expected to notify parents when the eligibility code is nearing its end date and to remind them to reconfirm. It is a parent’s responsibility to reconfirm the eligibility code.

The grace period begins the day after the code’s ‘Eligible to’ date. A child will enter the grace period either when the child’s parents cease to meet the eligibility criteria or due to a late reconfirmation. The grace period end date, as set out in the table below, will automatically be applied to eligibility codes and is displayed in the provider portal expiration dashboard and against individual child records in the provider portal headcount tasks. If a parent is unable to renew their eligibility, BFC will continue to fund a place for a child until the grace period end date is reached; the grace periods are set out below:

Grace periods

Date parent receives ineligible decision on reconfirmation:

Grace Period end date

1 January to 10 February

31 March

11 February to 31 March

31 August

1 April to 26 May

31 August

27 May to 31 August

31 December

1 September to 21 October

31 December

22 October to 31 December

31 March

The extended entitlement qualifying criteria impose the following limits on eligibility for the 30 hours free entitlement

  • a child may not start claiming 30 hours funding in the same term as an eligibility code is issued, even if the child has attended the setting in previous terms
  • a child may not start a new 30 hours place if their 30 hours code is in its grace period on the first day of the term
  • a child may continue to receive funding with the same provider if their 30 hours code is in its grace period on the first day of term
  • changing provider is considered starting a new 30 hours place, a child who changes provider mid-term must have had a valid 30 hours code on the first day of the term even if they were claiming funding at their previous provider

30 hours foster carers

Children in foster care will be eligible for the additional free hours from the term after they meet the following criteria:

  • the child has attained the age of 3 and is under compulsory school age
  • accessing the extended entitlement is consistent with the child’s care plan
  • in single foster parent families, the foster parent holds additional paid employment outside of their role as a foster carer
  • in 2 foster parent families, both partners hold additional paid employment outside of their role as a foster carer

Foster parents who wish to apply for the extended entitlement should discuss this with their social workers.

Contact information

Early Help Team

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