30 Hours of Free Childcare

The Government offers 30 hours of free childcare per week for parents of three and four year olds, to help them continue or take up employment.

Guidance from the Department for Education states that parents will need to meet the following criteria to be eligible:

  • They earn or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months.
    • This equates to £120 a week (or c.£6,000 a year) for each parent over 25 years old or £112.80 a week (or c.£5,800 a year) for each parent between 21 and 24 years old.
    • This applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on zero hours contract.
  • Where one parent meets the income criteria above and the other is:
    • Unable to work because they are disabled, have caring responsibilities or have been assessed as having limited capability to work.
    • On maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or if they are on statutory sick leave.
  • Where a parent is in a 'start-up period' (ie they are newly self-employed) they do not need to demonstrate that they meet the income criteria for 12 months.
  • If the parent is a non-European Economic Area (EEA) national, they must have recourse to public funds.

Foster carers who undertake paid work in addition to their fostering commitments may be eligible, contact the Childcare Places team to find out more. Tel: 03000 268 913, email: childcare@durham.gov.uk

Who will not qualify?

A parent will not meet the criteria when:

  • Either parent has an income of more than £100,000.
  • Either parent is a non-EEA national and subject to immigration control (and has no recourse to public funds).

What happens if a parent loses eligibility? 

  • They will receive a "grace period" - this means they will be able to keep their childcare for a short period.
  • Once the "grace period" has lapsed, the parent may be entitled to the universal 15 hour entitlement.

Are there any additional costs?

You may be charged by your childcare provider for lunches or for any additional hours of childcare needed. Please speak to your childcare provider for details. These additional charges are not covered by this scheme.

Check your eligibility

You can check whether you are eligible on the 30 hours free childcare eligibility checker

Parents who need assistance to apply (or who do not have access to the internet) can call the Childcare Service Customer Interaction Centre on Tel: 0300 123 4097 and apply by phone.

If you are eligible for 30 hours you will be given an 11 digit eligibility code. You or your
partner should take this code to your chosen childcare provider. You will also need to give them the National Insurance number of the person who registered online and your child's date of birth.

You will need to reconfirm your eligibility every three months but a reminder will be sent to you by HMRC by text and/or email.

Conditions for those who offer the free, part-time early learning, care and development

If your child receives either 15 hours early education or free 30 hours childcare for working parents the provider must:

  • Not impose conditions which you must agree in order to take-up your free hours. For example you are not obliged to purchase additional hours or pay lunch time charges in order to access free hours. Provider’s information packs must make clear that there are no such conditions and that you will have the option of supplying packed lunches if you do not wish to pay for lunches
  • Not charge ‘top up’ fees  - the difference between what a provider would normally charge and the funding they receive from the council for the free hours
  • Ensure that no other fees are being charged in relation to the free hours, such as for registration or uniform
  • Ensure that if you only want your free place, you will be able to do so

You can find a list of childcare providers offering the 30 Hours of Free Childcare in the childcare section of our website.

Find out more

If you would like more detail about the 30 Hours Free Childcare, our frequently asked questions document provides further information:



Durham County Council's Families Information Service does not promote nor endorse the services advertised on this website. Anyone seeking to use/access such services does so at their own risk and may make all appropriate enquiries about fitness for purpose and suitability to meet their needs.
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