Free early education entitlement (FEEE) for 3 and 4 year olds

All children are entitled to a free early education place starting the term after their third birthday (see relevant dates below). As parents you have a choice of the type of childcare your children can attend in order to receive their free entitlement. For example: 

  • private day nursery (some are based in Children’s Centres)
  • pre-school/playgroup or independent school
  • some childminders
  • maintained nursery unit operated by a Cheshire East school or a maintained nursery school 

Relevant dates for commencing: 

  • Children born in the period 1 January to 31 March: the start of term beginning on or following 1 April after the child’s third birthday;
  • Children born in the period 1 April to 31 August: the start of term beginning on or following 1 September after the child’s third birthday;
  • Children born in the period 1 September to 31 December: the start of term beginning on or following 1 January after the child’s third birthday. 

Conditions for free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds

The entitlement is for 15 hours of free early learning care per week over term time (38 weeks a year), a total of 570 hours over the year.

The entitlement may be stretched over the whole year with fewer hours per week for example 11 hours a week over the full year. These conditions apply:

  • your child can attend a maximum of 10 hours a day, there are no minimum hours
  • the entitlement is available between 6am – 8pm, even if the childcare provider is open before or after this
  • a child may attend a maximum of two sites in a single day
  • a child may not change provider during the term unless there are exceptional circumstances agreed by the Council
  • children should be able to take up their free hours as part of continuous provision and providers should avoid artificial breaks during the day wherever possible
  • government funding is intended to deliver up to 15 hours (or 30 hours for eligible families) a week of free, high quality, flexible childcare. It is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables, additional hours or optional activities
  • providers can charge for meals and snacks, consumables and optional activities as part of the free entitlement delivery but parents must not have to pay as a condition of taking up their child’s free entitlement place. Consumables may include personal care items such as wipes, nappies, sun cream, etc. Providers should not charge for the resources necessary to deliver the free entitlement such as paper, paint and equipment
  • a provider may charge a deposit of up to £50 to reserve a place. The deposit should be refunded by the end of the first half term your child attends. The deposit may not be refunded if you do not take up the place. Deposits are not payable for the 2 year old entitlement or for 3 and 4 year olds who have previously accessed the 2 year old entitlement

30 hours free childcare

All 3 and 4-year-olds in England already get 15 hours a week, or 570 hours a year of free early education. If their parents are living and working in England, 3 and 4-year-olds may be entitled to an additional 15 hours free childcare. An extra 570 hours of free childcare a year, so 1140 hours in total. 

The additional 15 hours per week (30 hours in total) are available to working parents of 3 and 4 year olds that meet the following eligibility criteria:

childcare choices

Your childcare provider will require proof that you are eligible to 30 hours free childcare. Check your eligibility online using the government's childcare choices website.

When to apply for 30 hours free childcare

When to apply for free childcare
When your child turns 3When you can get 30 hours fromRecommended time to apply
1 September to 31 December 1 January 15 October to 30 November
1 January to 31 March 1 April 15 January to 28 February
1 April to 31 August 1 September 15 June to 31 July

You can apply outside of these recommended dates but you might not receive your code in time.

You must have a valid code by the end of the term before you wish to start. You can not access provision in the same term that the code was issued.

You have to reconfirm your eligibility every 3 months. If you apply more than 3 months before the term starts, you’ll have to reconfirm your eligibility in your account in order to keep your code valid.

What to do next

1. Find a place for your child

As a parent/carer you can decide where you would like your child to go (subject to availability). For more information about what is available in your area, or help to find a place contact Cheshire East’s Family Information Service or go to our Choosing Childcare pages. You should contact the provider of your choice as soon as possible in case they have a waiting list for places.

2. Discuss the free entitlement with your setting

Each term you will be asked to sign a parental declaration, setting out agreed hours and patterns of access to the free entitlement. The entitlement maybe split between a maximum of 2 providers. If you decide to access the free entitlement at more than one setting, you will be required to complete a parental declaration form for both settings.

Early years pupil premium (EYPP)

The Early Years Pupil Premium is extra funding that your childcare provider can claim for eligible three and four year old children accessing their free early education entitlement. The extra funding is to support children’s development, learning and care.

More information is available on our EYPP parent leaflet (PDF, 415KB)

Free School Meals for 3 and 4 year olds

Statutory entitlement to Free School Meals (FSM) only applies to children in maintained schools and academies.  FSM requirements do not apply to children in the private, voluntary or independent sector. In order to qualify for FSM

  • a child must be a registered pupil of a maintained school and receiving education before and after the lunch break

Under current criteria the child’s parent must be in receipt of any one or more of the following benefits: 

  • income support (IS)
  • income-based jobseeker’s allowance (IBJSA)
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • support under Part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit) and have an annual income not exceeding £16,190, as assessed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs
  • Working Tax Credit four-week run-on (the payment someone receives for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
  • Universal Credit. From 1 April 2018 if a parent is entitled to Universal Credit they must have an annual net earned income equivalent to and not exceeding £7,400, assessed on up to three of the parent’s most recent Universal Credit assessment periods, to be eligible 

A child who is in receipt of a qualifying benefit in their own right is also entitled to FSM . To be eligible to receive free school meals, a pupil or their parent must be in receipt of any of the above listed benefits and must make a claim to the school for FSM . Until the claim is made, the pupil is not eligible for FSM

Page last reviewed: 06 February 2024

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