Free childcare funding for three/four year olds

Families can claim up to 15 hours of Universal Entitlement per week, for their three or four year old child.

What is the free entitlement for three and four year olds?

  • Children become eligible for an early education place from the start of the term after their third birthday
  • Each child accessing the 15 hours of child care is entitled to a total of 570 hours funded education during a year
  • You can take your free hours either termly (15 hours a week over 38 weeks) or stretch over the full year (570 hours over 51 weeks)
  • Session cannot be more than ten hours in any one day between the hours of 6am to 8pm, but may vary depending on the sessions available from your provider
  • You can choose to use your free hours at one provider or split the hours between two eg Child minder and a playgroup

30 hour childcare

The government introduced an additional 15 hours entitlement for working families. To check if you are eligible visit Childcare Choices.

If you are eligible you will receive an 11 digit code. The childcare provider you wish to use for your childcare will need this code from you.

Find out more about the 30 hour childcare scheme.

30 hours free childcare as a foster parent

What is 30 hours?

Working parents of three and four year olds in England may be entitled to up to 30 hours of childcare, for 38 weeks of the year (or fewer hours over more weeks). This is an additional 15 hours of childcare on top of the 15 hours universal entitlement for all three and four year olds in England (the term after their third birthday). Children in foster care are already entitled to the universal 15 hours.

Am I eligible?

Children in foster care who are aged three or four year old will be able to receive 30 hours childcare, if the following criteria are met:

  • Accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan; and
  • That, in single parent foster families, the foster parent engages in paid work outside their role as a foster parent; or
  • In two parent foster families, both partners engage in paid work outside their role as a foster parent. If one partner is not a foster parent then they must be in qualifying paid work and earn a minimum of the equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum/national living wage.

You should start by discussing this with the local authority responsible for the child (child’s corporate parent) in Salford this is the child’s social worker. 

Please read further information on our fostering section.

When is my child entitled to a free early education place?

There are three different funding periods in the year. Your child becomes eligible for funding at the beginning of the period after their third birthday. The following table shows when these funding periods are:

Child has third birthday between: Date eligible:
1 April and 31 August 1 September
1 September and 31 December  1 January
1 January and 31 March 1 April

Your child may access a place from the term after their third birthday, subject to the capacity of your chosen childcare provider.

Where can I access the free entitlement?

  • Children can access their three and four year old early education place through any provider that is registered with the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the local authority (LA).
  • Early years providers include day nurseries; playgroups/pre-schools; childminders; primary schools (with nursery classes attached) and Independent schools
  • You should have some choice over how you 'spend' the free universal entitlement but this does depend on provider capacity

How can I find a childcare provider?

If you have a childcare provider in mind please contact them to see if they have vacancies or you can search online or contact the Starting Life Well service for help and advice to find a childcare provider who meets your needs. Email us at or call 0161 778 0384.

How do I access the free entitlement?

  • Once you have chosen your provider and you feel confident your child will be happy there, you will be required to complete a simple form called a parent declaration form
  • This means providing proof of eligibility for the free entitlement (eg birth certificate), and negotiating the hours your child will attend the setting
  • The free entitlement should be free on point of contact or with immediate reduction in fees
  • Your provider may charge you for providing breakfast, lunch or snacks, this should be agreed in advance

What else do I need to know?

  • You do not have to buy additional hours or 'top up' sessional costs
  • You should not be charged for any part of the free entitlement
  • Remember to inform Tax Credits of any reduction in your nursery fees
  • The free entitlement does not affect any means tested benefits
  • Your provider may charge you for additional services such as snacks or specific activities, or extra childcare that is additional to the free entitlement place
  • These additional services cannot be offered as a condition of you accessing your free nursery entitlement place
  • You cannot be charged administration fees if your child is only accessing the free early education entitlement
  • If additional childcare is taken up, then an early years provider can charge this fee
  • You could access up to 15 hours free childcare before your child goes to a school nursery or if your child does not get a place in a school nursery
  • Some two year olds may also be entitled to free childcare, there is certain criteria that needs to be met
  • If your child is leaving their childcare provider it is your responsibility to give the required notices, as per agreement with the provider. There is normally a ‘four week’ notice period required.
    • You must complete and submit a transfer form
    • If you are moving to a provider outside of Salford, you will also need to contact the local authority where your new provider is situated. They will be able to advise you how to apply for the free hours at your new provider. Please be aware that some local authorities only allow you to claim your free hours from the beginning of a new term.

If you need further information on any of the above please contact the Starting Life Well service by emailing

This page was last updated on 12 January 2024

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