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Free Early Education Sessions

Free Funding For 2 Year Olds Eligibility Checker Early Years Pupil Premium Eligibility Checker

15 Hours Free Childcare for 2 Year Olds

Some two year olds in Darlington are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week during term time (no fewer than 38 weeks of the year).  Parents are also able to ‘stretch’ the offer so that they take fewer than 15 hours a week over more than 38 weeks of the year to enable childcare to be accessed during school holidays. Eligible children accessing the full entitlement can benefit from up to 570 hours of free childcare a year. Each session should be no shorter than 2.5 hours long or no longer than 10 hours long and your child must attend the setting for a minimum of two days per week to receive their full entitlement. All places are subject to availability at the chosen provider. This entitlement is free at the point of access for parents but should parents/carers require childcare for additional hours, over and above the entitlement, the provider will charge for this. You should ask for a breakdown of fees detailing the number of hours that are being provided free, and the hours that are being charged for.

Eligible children become entitled from the following dates:

Child's 2nd birthday betweenEntitled from
1 January - 31 March 1 April after their 2nd birthday until they access their early years entitlement
1 April - 31 August 1 September after their 2nd birthday until they access their early years entitlement
1 September - 31 December 1 January after their 2nd birthday until they access their early years entitlement

Children of families who are in receipt of the following benefits may be eligible:

  • Income support
  • Income based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guarantee element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190 (this amount may be subject to change)
  • Working Tax Credit with an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190 (this amount may be subject to change)
  • Universal Credits (to be phased in from October 2013 to the end of 2017)

To check if your child is eligible you can use the on-line checker. You will need your national insurance number. You will need your national insurance number. You should not run the on-line check more than two terms before your child may be eligible. 

You can also speak with your childcare provider about eligibility or you can ring People and Families’ Information Support on 01325 406222 (option 4) or email pfis@darlington.gov.uk

If the online eligibility checker indicates you are not eligible under the Free School Meals criteria, you may be eligible under other criteria.​

The following children are also eligible under non-income based criteria:

  • they have a current statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care Plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they have been adopted from Local Authority care
  • they have left care under a Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangements Order which specifies with whom the child lives or an Adoption Order
  • they are looked after by a local Council.

If you believe you meet any of the above non-income based criteria please speak with your childcare provider or you can contact Darlington’s People and Families’ Information Support on 01325 406222 (option 4) or by emailing pfis@darlington.gov.uk

We will then be able to confirm whether you are eligible and provide you with the supporting documentation to enable you to approach your chosen childcare provider to request your free place.

15 Hours Free Childcare for 3-4 Year Olds

If your child is three or four years old, they will be entitled to to up to 15 hours of flexible free early education every week. Parents will be able to claim the 15 hours per week over at least two days. However, for some children it may be more appropriate for a child to access their 15 hour entitlement over more days per week for shorter periods of time.

Child's 3rd birthday betweenEntitled from
1 January - 31 March 1 April after their third birthday until they access their early years entitlement
1 April - 31 August 1 September after their third birthday until they access their early years entitlement
1 September - 31 December 1 January after their third birthday until they access their early years entitlement

How does my child qualify?

Your child must:

  • be attending either a private day nursery, playgroup, pre-school group, independent school or accredited childminder who are registered with Darlington Early Years Service and who provide early education for children aged three and four years.
  • be attending your chosen setting on the 'headcount' date. This is usually the third Thursday in each new school term.

How do I apply?

Your provider will apply on your behalf however, you will be asked to sign a form to declare whether your child is attending another early education setting either in Darlington or in an other Authority.

How do I receive the grant?

The grant is paid to the provider. If your child is only attending the setting for 5 x 3 hour early education sessions then you should not be asked to pay anything. However, if you are purchasing additional services then the provider will pass the grant onto you in the form of reduced fees.

How is the grant allocated?

  • The grant is allocated depending on the number of sessions your child attends (totalling no more than 5).
  • If your child attends more than 1 setting, each provider will receive a proportionate amount of the grant. You cannot choose which provider will receive the grant.
  • If your child attends a LEA nursery school/unit for any number of sessions the grant is allocated to the school.

30 Hours Free Childcare for 3 and 4 Year Olds

From September 2017 some 3 and 4 year olds in Darlington will be able to access an extended early education and childcare place of up to 30 hours a week. In other words, in addition to their weekly universal entitlement of 15 hours a week, they will also be eligible for an additional 15 hours a week. This additional entitlement must be taken over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year or during term-time. However, parents/carers can ‘stretch’ this entitlement so that they take fewer hours per week but extend these to cover school holiday periods. For example, if you require childcare all year round and you use a day nursery or a childminder which is open for 50 weeks a year, you could take 22.8 hours of free childcare a week.  The relevant dates for access to the 30 hours childcare are the same as those for the universal entitlement as above. 

No session is to be longer than 10 hours and the entitlement cannot be taken before 6am or after 8pm. Parents/carers may use a maximum of up to three providers in a single day to access the entitlement but are limited to taking up the free entitlement across two sites in a single day. If you are using more than one childcare provider or a school and a childcare provider to access your 30 hours you must let each setting know that you are using other provision. The entitlement can be accessed in appropriate private day nurseries, playgroups, childminders, out of schools clubs and in nursery schools and nursery units. A list of providers is available from People and Families’ Information Support on 406222 or by emailing pfis@darlington.gov.uk. All places are subject to availability at the chosen provider. The entitlement is free at the point of access for parents but should parents/carers require childcare for additional hours, over and above the entitlement, the provider will charge for this. You should ask for a breakdown of fees detailing the number of hours that are being provided free, and the hours that are being charged for.

A child qualifies for the 30 Hours Free Childcare if they meet the following criteria:

  • both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns on average a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or national living wage; and less than £100,000 per year.
  • Working includes employed persons, self-employed persons and parents on zero hours contracts who meet the criteria.
  • Parent means a person who has parental responsibility for the child or care of the child.  In cases where a parent has remarried or is living with a partner, the step-parent or partner must also meet the earnings threshold.
  • Foster carers are eligible for the 30 Hours Childcare if they meet the criteria for their own children but they are not eligible for the 30 Hours Childcare for the children that they foster.

Families where one parent does not work (or neither parent works) will not usually be eligible for the 30 Hours Free Childcare. However, the 30 Hours Free Childcare will be available where:

  • both parents are employed but one (or both parents) is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity leave;
  • both parents are employed but one (or both parents) is temporarily away from the workplace on adoption leave;
  • both parents are employed but one (or both parents) is temporarily away from the workplace on statutory sick pay;
  • one parent is employed and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring; or
  • one parent is employed and one parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits.

Please note – H.M. Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has developed a service that allows parents to apply for 30 Hours Free Childcare and Tax-Free Childcare at the same time. Parents can apply when their child is 2 years and 39 weeks old. Applications are accepted via the Childcare Choices website [external link] not via the Council and you will need your national insurance number. Places are funded from the beginning of the term following a ‘yes’ decision from HMRC where this was made partway through a term. Parents who receive confirmation from HMRC that their child is eligible will receive a unique eligibility code and should then approach their chosen childcare provider who will validate this code before offering a 30 Hours Free Childcare place**. Parents will be required by HMRC to re-confirm eligibility every three months from the date of the eligibility check until the child is in reception class.

** Please note, if you are already accessing childcare provision for 30 hours or more a week and you are eligible for 30 Hours Free Childcare, funding will not automatically be allocated, you must present your unique eligibility code to your childcare provider as soon as possible.

For more information about Tax Free Childcare visit the GOV.UK website [external link]

Where can I get my free childcare from?

Only approved settings can receive funding - a list of local providers will be supplied to you should you be eligible for the funding. The list is also available from People and Families Information Support by phoning 01325 406222 (option 4) or by emailing pfis@darlington.gov.uk

I'm not eligible for free childcare, can I still get help?

The cost of childcare can seem daunting, but there is still help available:

  • The Childcare Choices website [external link] has information on the different financial support available to help parents with childcare costs.
  • An HMRC Childcare Calculator [external link] is available to support parents to check what help they could get with childcare costs.
  • If you are working, you may be able to claim tax credits for your childcare costs. Call the Tax credits helpline on 0345 300 3900
  • Lone parents looking for jobs or training may be able to get help for childcare costs through Job Centre Plus - 0845 606 0234
  • Some families will be eligible for free childcare whilst training
  • If you are paying for childcare the free entitlement will be deducted from your costs.

Early Years Pupil Premium

3 and 4 year olds in Darlington accessing early education sessions in a registered private day nursery, playgroup, with a childminder or in a nursery school or nursery unit will be eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Their family gets one of the following:
    1. Income Support
    2. Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance
    3. Income related Employment and Support Allowance
    4. Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
    5. the guarantee element of State Pension Credit
    6. Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190 (this amount may be subject to change)
    7. Working Tax Credit run-on, which is paid for 4 weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
    8. Universal Credits (to be phased in from October 2013 to the end of 2017)
  • they are in local authority care
  • they have left care through special guardianship, an adoption order or a child arrangements order which specifies with whom the child lives.

The Early Years Pupil Premium is a grant paid to registered providers to improve the education they provide to 3 and 4 year olds and for a child who is accessing their full entitlement of 15 hours a week over 38 weeks of the year, it equates to around £300 a year.  Most children who were eligible for a free childcare place for a two year old will be eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium.  Early years providers are responsible for identifying eligible children and informing the local authority so if you think your child is eligible, then please speak with your childcare provider or nursery school/unit as soon as possible.  Please note, the Early Years Pupil Premium is not a grant which is passed on to parents to offset childcare costs, it is paid to the childcare setting or nursery school/unit to improve provision.

You can see if your child is eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium by using the online checker. You will need your national insurance numberYou can also speak with your childcare provider or school about eligibility or for further information, you can ring People and Families’ Information Support on 01325 406222 (option 4) or email pfis@darlington.gov.uk