Early learning and childcare funding

  1. 15 hours of free childcare for 2 year olds
  2. Free Early Education Entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds
  3. Finding Local Childcare
  4. Extended hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds for working parents
  5. Can I receive free childcare?
  6. Care to Learn
  7. Disability Access Fund (DAF)
  8. EEC Special Educational Needs Inclusion Fund (SENIF)
  9. Childcare Sufficiency Assessment

There are many schemes available to help you give the best start to your child and to help you with the costs.

15 hours of free childcare for two year olds

From the age of two until they turn three, some children may be entitled to 15 hours of free early education and childcare during termtime.

There are some criteria you must meet for your child to qualify.

Families can usually qualify if they claim the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit, and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
  • Child tax credits, and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
  • The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

Extended eligibility criteria, set out by the Department for Education (DFE)

2 year olds can also get free childcare if they meet extended eligibility criteria, set out by the Department for Education (DFE).

1. Children of Zambrano Carers

A Zambrano Carer takes care of a British citizen child but is not a British citizen. If the carer is forced to leave the UK, the child won't be able to live in the United Kingdom. Even though Zambrano Carers can't get financial help from the government, they can work to support the child.

The children of Zambrano Carers can get a free place if their parents or carers have a low income like others who are eligible for the two year old entitlement (for example, a net income of £15,400).

2. Children of families with no recourse to public funds with a right to remain in the UK on grounds of private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Children of families with no recourse to public funds with a right to remain in the UK on grounds of private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

These families are entitled to work and so to be eligible for a free place the parents or carers must also meet the low level income requirements of the 2YO entitlement (e.g. a net income threshold of £15,400). 

To assess income to be eligible for a free place check one of the following or alternative evidence:

  • P60
  • Pay slip
  • Letter from employer or bank

 To assess eligibility for a free place provide:

Evidence of right to remain in the UK under Article 8:

  • Letter from Home Office granting leave to remain in the UK together with a biometric residence card. 

3. Children of a subset of failed asylum seekers (supported under section 4 and 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 – ‘the 1999 Act’).

Children of those supported under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

Children whose families receive support under section 95 of the 1999 Act are eligible for 2YO funding because they are temporarily unable to leave the UK and would otherwise be destitute. These families therefore satisfy the low income requirements to be eligible for the entitlement. 

Assessing eligibility for a free place for refused asylum seekers

To qualify for section 4 support, refused asylum seekers must be destitute and meet a narrow set of criteria. The support consists of accommodation and £35.39 a week via a pre-paid Visa card (ASPEN card). If the child is in a family receiving support under section 4 the child is entitled to a free place.

Evidence of support under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999:

  • Letter from the Home Office confirming s4 support
  • Valid ASPEN card

4. Looked After Children (Section 25 Child Act 1989)

Children who are being looked after by local authority. More information about this policy is on the government website.

How to apply

Early Learning for two year olds (EL2) dedicated phone line 020 7364 1553

Once you have checked your eligibility and chosen your provider, please complete the application form or visit the Parent Portal. If you can't finish this online, visit your nearby Family Hub or Children and Family Centre. They'll help you complete it.

Early Learning for two year olds (EL2) dedicated phone line 020 7364 1553, or you can reach us at early.learning@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

Finding local Childcare

Tower Hamlets has some excellent nurseries, pre-school playgroups and childminders that will help children learn and play. There are a few places to find out more about what is available for you and your family locally:

  • You can contact your local Children and Family Centre for a list of the providers, or contact the Family Information Service.
  • You can also search Tower Hamlets’ Local Offer website for your local providers
  • If you have any questions about Early Learning for two-year-olds (EL2) dedicated phone line 020 7364 1553

Childcare places for working parents

The Chancellor announced that there will be more childcare places in England. This was announced during the Budget on 15 March. Starting in April 2024, parents who work and have two-year-olds can get 15 hours of free childcare.

Starting in September 2024, all children from nine months old can get 15 hours of free childcare. Finally, starting in September 2025, parents who work and have children under five years old can get 30 hours of free childcare each week.

For more information please visit the National Day Nursuries Association website.

Expansion - apply now for April

Significant changes are happening to childcare support in England for 15 and 30 hours. Sign up to get more information about the expansion starting in April 2024. Learn how and when to register for help with childcare costs.

Free Early Education Entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds (Universal Hours)

All 3 and 4 year old children in Tower Hamlets can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare each year. It starts the term after they turn three years old. Usually, this means 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year (term-time). But, it can be spread out over a whole year to help parents.

The free time is determined based on each child's needs. The childcare provider asks the local authority for money. Parents need to show proof of their child's age and sign a form to get the money.

Extended hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds for working parents

This offer covers a total of 1,140 hours across the year (including the Universal Hours), 30 hours per week for the 38 weeks of the school year. This offer can be stretched across the full year to better suit the needs of working parents.

Not all providers will be able to offer the full hours that parents are entitled to. Parents will be able to use more than one childcare provider to ensure they can use their full entitlement.

  • Check if you are eligible at the Childcare Choices website.
  • Create a government gateway account to get your 11-digital eligibility code
  • Take your code to your childcare provider/childminder
If your child turns three betweenThey can take up their FREE place from

1 April to 31 August

1 September (Autumn term)

1 September to 31 December

1 January (Spring term)

1 January to 31 March

1 April (Summer term)



Can I receive free childcare?

CC Supporting families


The Childcare Choices website determines who can receive funding for childcare.

If you do not have access to a computer, call the HMRC Customer Interaction Centre to find out if you qualify for funding or clear up any queries

Tel: 0300 123 4097

The entitlement for 3 years olds starts from the term immediately after the child’s third birthday, until the term in which they become four. It is strongly recommended that parents check now, if you think that you can qualify for the next term along with your child.

Please see our guides:

Further information on all forms of Funding for Childcare (including Childcare Tax Credits) can be found at Gov.uk website and/or the Childcare Choices website.

Reconfirming your eligibility for Extended hours free childcare 

You must reconfirm your eligibility termly and you can do this by signing in to your account.

See our guide on how to reconfirm eligibility for 30 hours free childcare

What if I miss the re-confirmation deadline?

If you miss the deadline or your circumstances change, you will get a message saying your entitlement has stopped. You might have a period of grace where you can keep your childcare place. If this happens, talk to your childcare provider.

Your provider needs your code to confirm your child can still get free childcare. This information also applies to additional hours at nursery schools and nursery classes in primary schools.

Always apply for a 30 hours code before the end of term.

Tax-Free childcare

For Working families, including self-employed, in the UK.  You must be earning under £100k and at least £139 per week (equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or living wage) each. 

You are not receiving Tax Credits, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers. 

Child/ren aged 0-11 (or 0-16 if disabled)

For every £8 you pay into an online account, the government will add an extra £2, up to £2,000 per child per year

If your income or working pattern has changed due to COVID-19, check if you are eligible before applying or reconfirming.

Tax Credits for Childcare

Tax Credits are no longer accepting new applications for most people starting 1 February 2019. If you can't apply for Tax Credits, you might be eligible to apply for Universal Credit instead.

Universal Credit for Childcare

This is for working families claiming Universal Credit with children under the age of 17 years and not receiving Tax-Free Childcare. This can cover up to 85 per cent of eligible childcare costs. Details can be found on the Childcare Choices website.  

Care to Learn

Young parents under the age of 20 receive funding support to help with the cost of childcare while they are learning and this is called ‘Care to Learn’.

In order to receive Care to Learn funding you must:

  • receive education or look to start some form of education that receives some public funding
  • on the day of your course or learning programme be under 20 years of age
  • care for your own child or children.

Care to Learn funding can be claimed by either the child’s father or mother, if the other parent is unable to provide childcare, or the other parent is not claiming childcare tax credit. If you have more than one child, you can get support for all of them.

Only Ofsted registered childcare providers can be used and the Family Information Service can you help you to find a childcare provider in your area.

Care to Learn will pay the childcare provider directly and any money needed to help with travel costs will be paid straight to the learning or training provider, who will then pass that onto the parent.

For more information on Care to Learn call the helpline on 0800 121 8989 or visit Care to Learn website.

Disability Access Fund

The Disability Access Fund (DAF) is the new funding system for Early Years’ providers to help children with disabilities or special educational needs. The funding helps with access to Free Entitlement places for Early Years, by supporting providers in making reasonable adjustments to their settings.

EEC Special Educational Needs Inclusion Fund (SENIF)

SENIF is for children who have emerging needs and receive funding for early learning. The early years provider uses the fund to help these children.

The funding can be used in different ways, like buying equipment, making adaptations, getting training, and improving staffing. It's not for one-on-one support. The provider should involve parents in discussions and planning for their child's support.

If providers think SENIF would be helpful, they need permission from parents. They will talk to parents about how the funding can help their child. EEC providers get regular updates on SENIF eligibility and the application process.

To receive a copy of the SENIF Guidance for Early Education and Childcare providers, please email: EEC/SENIF@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

Childcare Sufficiency Assessment

The Integrated Early Years' Service (IEYS) in Tower Hamlets has a legal duty to make sure there is enough good-quality childcare and early years services.

Before you start a childminding or childcare business, you should look into what childcare services are already available in the area where you want to set up.u

This will help you make sure your business can last. It's important that your business can meet the needs of the local community. The IEYS regularly collects information from existing early years providers, which we add to our map of available services.

The map gives an overview of the availability and quality of early years’ provision. We suggest that you also complete your own market research in the area you are planning to set up your business and not just rely on the Childcare Sufficiency Assessment