Free Childcare in the UK: How to Apply

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Childcare is a crucial component of supporting working parents and ensuring children receive quality early education. To ease the financial burden on families and promote early learning opportunities for children, several free childcare schemes have been introduced in the United Kingdom.

Aqsa Waheed, a Paralegal Legal Executive at Redmans Solicitors, tells us about the free childcare schemes available in England as well as provides insights into similar programs in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Additionally, we have offered a detailed explanation of the application process for each region to guide parents through accessing these essential services.

England’s Free Childcare Scheme

In England, the government offers free childcare to eligible families through the “15 hours of free childcare for 2-year-olds” scheme.

With the implementation of this program, families who may be facing financial constraints will be able to ensure that their children have access to early education. To qualify for this program, families need to meet certain criteria, such as receiving specific benefits or having a child with a disability.

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The government’s initiative of providing 15 hours of free childcare for 2-year-olds intends to encourage children’s participation in educational activities before they start formal schooling. This program covers a range of early education settings, such as nurseries, pre-schools, and childminders, giving parents the freedom to choose the best option for their child.

Applying for Free Childcare in England

To apply for free childcare in England, parents must follow these steps:

  • Check Eligibility: Visit the official government website or consult with local authorities to determine eligibility criteria. Families receiving certain benefits, such as Income Support or Universal Credit, are typically eligible.
  • Online Application: Complete the online application form available on the government’s official website. Ensure that all required information is provided accurately.
  • Confirmation: Once the application is processed, parents will receive confirmation of eligibility. This confirmation will outline the number of free hours the child is entitled to and how they can be used.
  • Choose a Provider: Parents can then choose an approved early education provider, such as a nursery or childminder, which participates in the scheme. Ensure that the chosen provider is registered and complies with the necessary standards.
  • Inform the Provider: Inform the selected provider about the child’s eligibility for free childcare. The provider will then work with parents to determine a suitable schedule for the child’s attendance.

Other Childcare Schemes


In addition to England’s childcare program, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales also offer their own schemes to support families.

The Scottish government provides funded early learning and childcare to assist families with childcare expenses. This program offers 600 hours of free childcare each year to eligible children aged between 3 to 5 years old.

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To apply for funded early learning and childcare in Scotland, there are three steps you need to follow:

  • Eligibility Check: First, you need to verify whether you meet the eligibility criteria, which often include income thresholds and the child’s age.
  • Local Authority Application: After confirming your eligibility, you should contact your local council or use online resources to submit an application for funded childcare.
  • Choose a Provider: Once your application is approved, you can choose a registered childcare provider that participates in the scheme.


In Wales, the government offers a Childcare Offer for eligible working parents with children aged 3 to 4 years old. The offer provides 30 hours of government-funded childcare per week.

To apply for the Childcare Offer in Wales:

  • Eligibility Check: Check if you meet the eligibility criteria, including the working hours and income requirements.
  • Online Application: Fill out the online application form available on the government website.
  • Verification: Provide necessary documents, such as employment details, to verify eligibility.
  • Confirmation: Once approved, parents will receive a confirmation code. This code should be provided to the chosen childcare provider.


In Ireland, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides free preschool education to children between the ages of 2 years and 8 months and 4 years and 7 months.

To apply for the ECCE Scheme in Ireland:

  • Registration: Register your child with a participating childcare provider. You can get a list of participating services from your local City or County Childcare Committee.
  • Verify Age: Provide the necessary documentation to verify your child’s age (birth certificate or passport).
  • Claiming Hours: Once registered, parents can claim the allocated free preschool hours.

Benefits of Free Childcare Schemes

Free childcare schemes available across the UK provide families and the wider community with many benefits. They help to alleviate the financial burden on parents, allowing them to work without the worry of expensive childcare costs. This, in turn, boosts economic productivity and stability.

Early education is crucial to a child’s development. Access to high-quality childcare services ensures children are exposed to enriching learning environments that promote cognitive, social, and emotional growth. This not only prepares them for formal education but also lays the foundation for future success.

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Statistics suggest that children who receive quality early education are more likely to perform well academically, exhibit positive social behaviours, and have better long-term outcomes. Therefore, these childcare schemes are not only a financial relief for parents but also an investment in the nation’s future workforce.

To learn more about childcare schemes and support in the UK, you can explore the following resources:


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