Free Entitlement to Early Education for two, three and four year olds

Some two year olds and all three and four year olds are entitled to a Free Early Education place (FEE).

Free Early Education for two year olds

The Free Early Education for two year olds (FEE2) offers eligible children up to 15 hours per week of quality early years education from the term after their second birthday.

How do children qualify?

For parents to be eligible for a place on the FEE2, they must meet any one of the following from either Criteria A or B.


Criteria A:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit - if you and your partner have a combined income from work of less than £15,400 a year after tax
  • tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

Criteria B:

  • they’re looked after by a local council
  • they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order

Where can children access a free place?

Parents can access free childcare places at a range of participating Ofsted registered childcare providers such as:

  • registered childminders
  • pre-schools/playgroups
  • day nurseries
  • nursery schools
  • children's centres (that offer childcare)

For details of participating childcare providers that offer free places please follow the links below:

How many hours are children entitled to?

Children are entitled to up to 15 hours per week, that’s 570 hours per year. Most childcare providers offer their places term time only (38 weeks per year), however, some childcare providers may offer ‘Stretched’ places. This is when a child goes for fewer hours per week but attend for more than 38 weeks. Parent’s need to discuss with their chosen childcare provider how they are offering their FEE2 places and what hours are available.

How can families apply?

Applications can be made online. To make an application on the parents behalf, you will need the parents:

  • National Insurance (NI) or National Asylum Seeker Service (NASS) reference number
  • parent’s surname
  • parents date of birth

What happens next?

After the application has been made, the parents details will be run through the national eligibility checker (using the NI/NASS number, parents name and parent’s date of birth). Parents will receive confirmation of their application to notify them whether of not their child is eligible for a FEE2 place. Parents can then look for suitable participating childcare providers (see links above for details of participating childcare providers).

What happens to children that are not eligible under the revised criteria?

If a child is already in a childcare placement, the funding will not be removed if their circumstances mean they do not meet the revised criteria.

All children who require a place from September must meet the revised criteria. Any application submitted on an older version of the referral will be returned to the sender and not accepted. Any application received prior to this date, will be contacted where eligibility need to be re-assessed.

When can children access a free place?

The earliest a child can access their free place is the term after their second birthday. 
The table below shows the dates of birth and the earliest time a child could take up their free place:

A child born between:  Is eligible from:
1 January – 31 March 1 April – Summer Term
1 April – 31 August 1 September – Autumn Term
1 September – 31 December 1 January  - Spring Term

FEE for three and four year olds

All three and four year olds are eligible for up to 15 hours of FEE up to 38 weeks per year (term time only). These free hours can be taken as flexibly as the childcare provider is able to offer. Children become eligible the term after their third birthday.

When can children access a free place?

The table above also shows for three and four years olds the dates of birth and the earliest time a child could take up their free place.

Where can children access a free place?

All parent’s need to do is choose an Ofsted registered childcare provider that offers the FEE three and four years old scheme and discuss with them how they deliver this service. Places can be taken at:

  • pre-schools/playgroups
  • day nurseries
  • children's centres (that offer childcare)
  • independent nursery schools
  • local authority nursery schools or nursery classes
  • registered childminders (not all childminders participate in the FEE three and four year old scheme).

Our childcare directory will indicate if they are participating in the FEE three and four year old scheme:

• view all childminders that offer FEE three and four places 
• view all nurseries, pre-schools and children’s centres that offer FEE three and four places

Once a parent has chosen a childcare provider, they will make a claim on the child’s behalf at the start of each term. Parent’s will not receive any funding directly, all payments will be made directly to the childcare provider.

For more details on how the FEE for two, three, and four year old schemes operate view the Free Early Education guide.

Parent’s can also contact the Families and Young peoples information (FYi) service for further information or advice.

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