Further information and guidance on accessing a two year old place
You should not be charged for the free place. Lancashire County Council pays the childcare provider directly for your child's free place and if your child doesn't get any additional hours there should not be a registration fee.
If, however you choose to take up any additional hours or services from your childcare provider, you will be charged accordingly for these and they may charge a registration fee. Please discuss this with your childcare provider.
If you are using a childcare provider that is open for more than 38 weeks, you will be charged for any additional time that your child attends.
If your family is eligible, we'll pay for up to 15 hours' free childcare a week, for up to 38 weeks of the year.
The 38 weeks are divided into:
- Spring Term (1 January – 31 March): 11 weeks at 15 hours per week (165 hours per term)
- Summer Term (1 April – 31 August): 13 weeks at 15 hours per week (195 hours per term)
- Autumn Term (1 September – 31 December): 14 weeks at 15 hours per week (210 hours per term)
You may have the option to 'stretch' your child's free hours over more than 38 weeks. This would mean that your child would attend for less than 15 hours per week, but more than 38 weeks in the year. Please discuss this option with your chosen childcare provider to see if this is something that they offer.
You can take the free childcare flexibly. For example, your child could attend for three hours a day over five days, or five hours a day for three days in a week, or they could take the offer over two days.
There are some rules that apply though, you can use:
- A minimum of 2.5 hours in one day
- A maximum of 10 hours in one day
- A maximum of 15 hours over one week
You do not have to take up the full 15 hours.
When you speak with a childcare provider they will be able to explain these rules to you, or you can contact our Family Information Service.
The free place can be taken over a lunch break, if this is offered by your childcare provider. Your childcare provider may offer a meal at an additional cost; however you should also have the choice to provide your own packed lunch.
The provider will work with you to consider your child's needs, your preferred hours/days, and the sessions where they currently have vacancies. They will do their best to give you the hours you want, but it is their decision whether to offer you exactly what you want.
If after talking it through, if the provider is unable to take your child at the times you want, you will need to find another provider.
If you are not sure whether your child is receiving all of their free hours, check the invoice you get from your childcare provider. They should provide you with a clear invoice and you should be confident about how your childcare fees have been calculated. If you are concerned, please arrange to speak to your childcare provider who should be able to explain your fees. If you are still concerned, please email the Free Early Education Team at email@example.com with details of your concern.
If you would like any further information contact our Family Information Service.
To offer this service, childcare providers must be registered with Ofsted and not be judged to be inadequate. They must also sign Lancashire County Council's funding agreement.
We cannot fund any other types of care, including family arrangements. If a relative or friend looks after your child during the week, they can't be paid for this entitlement.
If the provider you want to use is not registered, has no spaces or can't offer you the hours you want, search our list of providers for an alternative.
The free hours can be split across two registered childcare providers. If your child attends two providers, you must complete a 'Parental Agreement' for both childcare providers, which must contain accurate information about the number of hours your child attends at each childcare provider. The funding hours will then be split across both providers.
The council funds each childcare provider on a termly basis. If you move your child within term to a different childcare provider you may not be able to claim free hours at the new childcare provider. You will need to discuss this with your existing childcare provider to see whether they are willing to transfer any of the funding to the new childcare provider. They are not obliged to do this as it is at their discretion. Please check before you move your child.
This also applies if you want to move your child to a maintained nursery from a private day nursery or vice versa.
Once you have agreed your hours or sessions for your child you should be asked to sign a Parental Agreement with your childcare provider. This provides you and the provider with a document which clearly shows the agreed hours or sessions that your child should attend. This helps to protect everyone if there is a dispute, particularly one that involves money (in rare circumstances the provider may ask you to pay for any hours that your child has mistakenly received from them).
You will need to complete a Parental Agreement which confirms the number of free hours that your child is attending per week.
The provider will need a copy of your child's birth certificate to confirm your child's date of birth and ensure that they are of an eligible age to access a free place.
If your child is unwell, you are not able to claim back any free hours that your child has been unable to attend due to illness. The free hours will be used to keep your child's place open for their return. If your child is unwell and unable to attend for more than four weeks, please contact your childcare provider to discuss your child's place.
If your child is unable to attend due to a family holiday, their free hours will normally be used to keep their free place open until they return. Alternatively, if you discuss your holiday with your childcare provider, you may be able to pay a retainer to keep your child’s place open. This may mean that your child can receive their free hours later in the term. This would be at the discretion of your childcare provider and they are under no obligation to offer this.
We will continue to fund the childcare place until your child moves onto the universal funding the term after they turn three, they will keep their place even if your circumstances change and you wouldn't be eligible any more.
As every child is provided with some free childcare from the start of the term after their third birthday, most providers will be able just to continue your child's place.
Some may not be able to (because they're full or they're not eligible to offer the three year old places). You should ask about what the childcare provider is able to offer when your child is old enough for a three year old place when you're thinking about where to take your child for their two year old place.
If you claim Working Tax Credit you may already be getting your childcare costs as part of your Working Tax Credit. This is called the childcare element.
With childcare tax credits, you could get help for up to 70% of your childcare costs, but there's a limit. The weekly limit is £175 for one child, or £300 for two or more children. However, what you really get depends on your income and circumstances.
Under the free early education scheme, you will be better off because the first 15 hours of your childcare costs will be totally free. This will be paid directly to your childcare provider. You can still get help for the rest of your childcare costs as part of your Tax Credits. This means the childcare costs you need to claim for as part of your Working Tax Credit will be less, helping you to stay within the maximum allowed.
You will need to tell HMRC when you get free childcare. To do this, you can call the Tax Credit Helpline on 0345 300 3900. The helpline is open every day, including weekends, from 8am to 8pm. When you ring them, it is worthwhile keeping a note of your call. Include the name of the person you spoke to and the date you called.
For further information on benefits and tax credits, please see our Benefits and financial help section.