Funded Early Learning FAQs (v.2)

What are the benefits for accessing funded early learning (FEL) hours for your child?

FEL helps children learn through play activities. Parents have seen their children make friends their own age and become better behaved with grown-ups; their speech and language have improved; they settle down and concentrate for longer; they’re willing to try new foods which improves their nutrition, and younger children improve their sleeping patterns and toilet training.

Families wanting to know more about the extended working entitlement and how to make an application should read the Frequently Asked Questions for Parents – Working Parents of 2-year olds. This is available in the "Downloads and Links" section on the right hand side of this page.

There are screen shots showing the step by step process of making an application for the extended working entitlement on the Childcare Choices website Applying for Tax-Free Childcare Application Journey - Childcare Service application slides.pdf (

Other available childcare schemes which offer 15 hours per week:

  • Universal Funded Early Learning for all children aged 3 to 4 years living in the UK
  • Targeted 2-year-Old Funded Early Learning is for families in receipt of some type of support, details of this scheme can be found below ‘Is my Child Eligible for Targeted 2-year-old FEL?

Please clicks on the arrows at the end of the questions to reveal the relevant information.

2 year old children are eligible if they are old enough (see the When can I apply for Targeted 2 year Old Funded Early Learning? section below) and if they meet any one of these.

EITHER the family is eligible for:

  • income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit, with annual earned income under £15,400 AFTER tax (take-home pay – not including state benefits)
  • Working Tax Credit AND, OR Child Tax Credit, with an annual income under £16,190 before tax (gross earnings)
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit).

OR the child:

If you’re a non- UK citizen who cannot claim benefits

If your immigration status says you have ‘no recourse to public funds’, you may still get free childcare for your 2-year-old. You must live in England and your household income must be no more than:

  • £26,500 for families outside of London with one child
  • £34,500 for families within London with one child
  • £30,600 for families outside of London with two or more children
  • £38,600 for families within London with two or more children

You cannot have more than £16,000 in savings or investments.

Applications can be made online via a smartphone, tablet or computer. You can apply via the Citizen Portal using this link. You will need an email address set up before you apply.

You can only apply for children who live with you and for whom you have parental responsibility. The Citizen’s Portal Guidance is available in the downloads and links section.

You must let us know if the child stops living with you or you no longer have parental responsibility while they’re still using a FEL place.

If you are having problems applying online you can request assistance from a local nursery or your childminder if they are registered to provide FEL. They may need to book a time to do this and you must be with them when the application is made. If a nursery assists with the application, you are not obliged to take a place at that nursery.

Occasionally the portal facility may be unavailable due to an upgrade or a fault. If this happens you should wait at least 24 hours before trying again to allow time for the site to be fixed.

You can apply at any time starting from 10 weeks before the end of the term in which your child’s turns 2.

Date of 2nd birthday

Apply from

Place funded for a
year starting from

Between 1 April and 31 August

23 June

1 September

Between 1 September and 31 December

23 October

1 January

Between 1 January and 31 March

22 January

1 April

If your child is already old enough to start, then the place will be funded as soon as you confirm you are eligible using the online portal. For example, if you haven’t applied yet but your child’s second birthday was in the previous school term, then the place can start as soon as you complete a successful application.

Changes in circumstances can affect claims for working families.  For childcare for working families, please refer to the “Extended FEL” sections on this page.

Once you have applied successfully, your child’s funded hours will be available until they start school.

Even if the reason you qualified changes, your child’s place is still funded. For example, if you qualified because you earned under £16,190 but your earnings go above that amount, your childcare funding is still available.

After your child turns 3, they will be entitled to the Universal FEL offer, along with all other 3 and 4 year olds – see next section.

All children aged 3 and 4 are eligible for the universal hours of FEL from the term after their third birthday. You do not need to apply for a code, you just need to prove your child’s date of birth.

Date of 3rd birthday

Place funded from

Between 1 April and 31 August

1 September

Between 1 September and 31 December

1 January

Between 1 January and 31 March

1 April

The universal hours will be funded until your child takes a place in a school reception class or reaches compulsory school age. School reception classes are for 25 hours a week and provide a good stepping stone between nursery and school. Reception class places are available from the September after your child turns 4, but they can be deferred for one or two terms if you prefer.

  • From April 2024, working parents of 2-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours childcare.​
  • From September 2024, 15 hours childcare will be extended to all children from age of 9 months​
  • From September 2025, working parents of children under the age of 5 will be entitled to 30 hours childcare per week.

The hours must be taken over a minimum of 38 weeks (15 hours a week, or 30 if entitled to additional hours) but can be taken over more weeks: for example, your child could take 12 hours a week for 47½ weeks. Talk to your childcare provider about what options are available.

Families can visit the Childcare Choices | 30 Hours Childcare, Tax-Free Childcare and More | Help with Costs | GOV.UK which includes more detailed information about the extended entitlements and a childcare assessment tool families can use to identify the support they might be eligible for based on their child’s age and their family circumstances.

Parents or carers of 3 and 4 year olds need to meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for Extended FEL, also known as “30 Hours Free Childcare”:

  • Earn or expect to earn the equivalent of 16 hours pay at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage over the next three months.
    • For 23 years old and over this is £166.69 a week
    • For 21 to 22 years old this is £162.84 a week 
    • For 18 to 20 years old this is £119.77 a week 
    • If you are under 18 or an apprentice £84.46.
  • This threshold applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on a zero hours contract.
  • If you are about to start work and will become eligible, you can apply up to 31 days before the job starts.
  • One or both parents can be absent from the work place due to maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or on statutory sick pay.
  • If 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.
  • Parents who are newly self-employed and are in a “start-up period” do not need to meet the income criteria for 12 months.
  • If you are a non-EEA national you must have recourse to public funds – i.e. you must have a National Insurance Number or National Asylum Seeker Number.
  • Foster Parents are eligible for their own children, but for children they foster they will need to apply through the Fostering and Adoption Team.
  • Earnings of any one parent must not exceed £100,000 per year.

The eligibility criteria must be met by both parents/carers in a couple, or the lone parent in a single parent family.

HMRC will determine who is eligible. Neither the Local Authority nor the childcare provider can influence this decision.

The child must also be old enough – see How do I know if my 3 or 4 year old is eligible for FEL? above.

Applications can be made online via a smartphone, tablet or computer. You can apply via this link

You will need a Government Gateway account set up before you apply – the application will take you through this, but allow approximately 30 minutes to complete the whole process.

The application will allow you to apply for Tax Free Childcare at the same time, which can save you 20% on your childcare costs. If you are better off with Tax Credits, Universal Credit or a Voucher scheme then you can opt out of this part of the application (see Is there any other help towards childcare fees? below).

You will need your latest pay slip, your national insurance number, your partner’s national insurance number and the date you both started your current employment.

At the end of the process, you will be set up with a government childcare account, which will show your eligibility details.

It is important that you apply as soon as you meet the criteria as a delay may mean you won’t get the extended hours until the following term.

Children can start the extended hours from the term after they turn two and approval is received from HMRC. If you don’t apply until after the start of term, your child will only be funded for the universal element (up to 15 hours a week) until the next term.

Date of 2nd birthday

Eligibility code received by
no later than

Place funded from

Between 1 April and 31 August

31 August

1 September

Between 1 September
and 31 December

31 December

1 January

Between 1 January
and 31 March

31 March

1 April

The earliest you can apply is 16 weeks before your child’s third birthday.

The latest you can apply is when your child reaches compulsory school age. As with the universal FEL hours, you cannot use these extended hours at the same time as a school reception class but you can defer a school reception place by one or two terms if you prefer.

If you become eligible part way through a term (for example if you start a new job) then the extended hours won’t start until the following term.

Remember to apply during the term before your child can start their place in order to secure government funding for the additional hours.

Sign up for a reminder at Childcare Choices Website: 

If your application is approved you will receive a “30 Hours” code. This number is valid for three months.

You can either confirm the code is valid on the Citizen Portal and send your details to the provider of your choice OR you can take the code to your provider and they will check it is valid before confirming a place.

You will be able to find your code by going into your Childcare Service account at and clicking on “30 hours free childcare”. Please see the download How parents can access the childcare service if you are unsure how to do this.

HMRC should send you a reminder 4 weeks before the number expires asking you to confirm you’re still eligible. It’s important you reconfirm your claim when contacted and we recommend also setting your own reminder. You can access the details of your code’s start and end dates more easily using the Citizen Portal, but you can only reconfirm the code on the HMRC website.

If you don’t reconfirm eligibility before the first term of extended hours starts, you will not be able to use the extended hours.

If you don’t confirm that you’re still eligible once the extended hours have started, you will lose eligibility and go into the grace period (see the next section below).

You don’t need to reapply for the 2 year old FEL offer.

If your circumstances change and you no longer meet the criteria, or if you fail to reconfirm your eligibility, GOV.UK will inform you that you are no longer eligible.

Your child’s place will not stop immediately as it will still be funded for a grace period. After the grace period ends your child is still entitled to the universal FEL hours (up to 15 hours a week).

The length of the grace period varies according to when you stop being eligible.

Date of ineligible decision on

Grace Period end date
(child funded until):

1 January – 10 February

31 March

11 February – 31 March

31 August

1 April – 26 May

31 August

27 May – 31 August

31 December

1 September – 21 October

31 December

22 October – 31 December

31 March

We will inform your childcare provider(s) that you are no longer eligible and the end date for the grace period.

You can also reapply during your grace period and if you are eligible the funded hours will continue.

If you are using more than one provider to deliver the funded hours then you should use the grace period to discuss where and when you want to use the reduced hours.

The grace period will not apply if you haven’t started using the Extended FEL hours yet. If your code needs to be reconfirmed before your first term using Extended FEL hours and you don’t confirm that you’re still eligible you will only be entitled to the universal offer, up to 15 hours a week. The only exception to this is if your provider has not made the Extended FEL hours available to you yet, for example: if your provider is closed for Easter and your code expires after March 31st but before they reopen, the grace period will still apply.

To offer a FEL place, childcare providers have to be registered with the Local Authority and they have to agree to our Code of Practice and Funding Agreement.

All providers offering FEL should be on our Sheffield Directory listings.

FEL providers include:

Nursery classes in schools
Day nurseries
Playgroups and pre-schools
Maintained nursery schools
Childcare providers should be happy for you to visit them to look around and ask any questions you may have before you make a decision on who will look after your child.

You may want to consider using more than one childcare provider, especially if you are entitled to the Extended FEL offer (30 Hours).

If you live outside of Sheffield but would like to use a Sheffield provider or live in Sheffield but want to use a provider in another area, then that can be arranged in most cases. Check with your chosen provider when you book your child’s place.

You should also read our advice on how to choose a childcare provider via this link.

For 2 year old FEL, the provider will need to confirm your eligibility code is valid before they can confirm the place. You will also need your child’s birth certificate and proof of residency.

For the universal FEL for 3&4 year olds the provider will need to see your child’s birth certificate and proof of residency.

The provider may also ask to see your National Insurance Number so they can apply for additional funding called Early Years Pupil Premium. Pupil Premium will benefit your child directly and if you are eligible it is important you allow your provider to apply. Applying for Pupil Premium does not affect any Tax Credits or means tested benefits and is paid directly to the provider.

For the Extended FEL (30 Hours) the provider will need to confirm your eligibility code before they can confirm the place (see How do I apply section). They will also need to see your National Insurance Number(s), your child’s birth certificate and proof of residency.

Yes, your child can use up to two different settings a day. You can also use different providers on different days – which may be useful if you need childcare at weekends or during school holidays.

All FEL places should be formally agreed between the parent and provider on a Parent/Carer Agreement form. If you are using more than one provider, you should use this form to document how many hours you are using in total. This will help you to avoid going over your entitlement of 570 or 1,140 hours a year. If you exceed your entitlement, your provider cannot be paid for the excess hours and you may be charged.

While it is permitted to use more than one provider, you should carefully consider if this is best for your child. One of the aims of FEL is to prepare children for the routine of a school day and they will benefit from stability. Changing between providers will naturally cause a disruption in that routine.

If you are using more than one childcare provider, you should ask the providers

How they will manage the transition from one provider to the other?
Do they have an information sharing agreement?
Have they planned how Early Learning will be delivered between them?
Have they worked out that the total hours do not exceed your entitlement?

For the Extended FEL offer, your provider may ask you to say who is delivering the universal hours and who is delivering the extended hours.

Government funding is intended to cover the cost of providing 570 or 1,140 hours of high quality, flexible childcare per year, but many providers offer services that go beyond the scope of Funded Early Learning.

Providers are allowed to ask parents to pay for the following, but they cannot make it a condition of accessing the funded place:

Any hours in addition to the funded entitlement.
Consumables: e.g. food, drink, sun cream, nappies, wipes.
Additional services: e.g. drama, music, foreign languages, yoga, outings.
Deposits: these should be fully refundable – see below.
On-call charges for childminders – see below.
Transportation: e.g. picking up at a nursery outside of the funded hours.
Deposits can be charged for reserving a funded place, but they should be repaid in full if your child takes up the place. If the deposit is for privately paid for childcare it may be deducted from future charges rather than returned. The provider should not charge you an administration fee as a condition of accessing a funded place.

Childminders are allowed to apply a charge for being on-call. For example, if your child is at a nursery in the morning and with a childminder in the afternoon, the childminder may charge for being available in the morning should your child need picking up due to an emergency.

You should not be charged for more flexible hours, or to guarantee your child’s funded place. Government funding should not be used as a subsidy against the provider’s hourly rate – any privately paid for hours should be billed separately. If your child is at a setting morning and afternoon, providers can charge for the food at lunch but should avoid creating a break in your funded hours by charging you for the time. You should also have the option of supplying a packed lunch for your child.

When choosing your childcare provider, you should be aware of any additional charges and consider whether they add to the quality of the experience you want your child to have while in their care.

Any charges should be agreed and recorded in your Parent/Carer Agreement with the provider and you should be given a copy of this for your records. See the example Parent/Carer Agreement in the Download section.

Childcare providers can choose the times when they offer the FEL hours, so talk to them first to ensure that the time you want is available. They are not obliged to offer FEL for all their opening hours.

FEL can be taken on any day of the week but you will not be able to have:

More than 15 hours a week (30 if eligible for the extended entitlement)
More than 10 hours in one day
More than two settings in one day
Any time before 6am or after 8pm
If you work shifts, ask your provider if they can be flexible about the hours they make available.

Many settings offer FEL over 38 weeks of the year as standard, but it can be delivered over up to 52 weeks. If you want a service that covers school holidays, ask your provider about a “stretched offer”. For example:

570 hours a year could be 12 hours a week for 47½ weeks.
1,140 hours a year could be 23 hours a week for 49½ weeks.
If you want to use less than the full entitlement (for example, only 10 hours a week), this is allowed, but you should agree it with your childcare provider so they know what hours they will be funded for.

Keeping to a routine is important for your child, but if you want to take holidays, your provider will still be funded for 4 weeks per year. For holidays over 4 weeks your provider may charge you to keep the place open. Absences should be discussed with your provider in advance.

The Parent/Carer Agreement you sign with your provider normally stipulates a 20 day or 4 week notice period. You will have to serve this notice period before you can move or transfer your child to a different provider. You can move to a different provider at the start of a new term without serving the notice period, but you should let your provider know as a courtesy.

You MUST give your new provider the details of your previous provider. Your new provider will be able to confirm that your child’s funding has been transferred properly and check that you are not at risk of exceeding your annual hours. If you do not provide this information you may be liable for charges by your new providers for the 4 week notice period.

Only in very exceptional circumstance will the 4 week noticed period be waived. Examples of exceptional circumstances are:

Unexpected relocation in Sheffield (e.g. fleeing domestic abuse, interim accommodation in another area of the city following homelessness).
As a result of child protection the child is placed in the care of others such as foster care.
If the family circumstances change (e.g. due to a sudden job change and it’s too far to travel to your current childcare provider).
To accommodate an unexpected changing shift/work pattern.
See Section 8 of the example Parent/Carer Agreement in the Download section.

We understand a common concern is that the provider’s relationship with you and your child will be affected if you express dissatisfaction, however in the first instance you should attempt to resolve any concerns with them and discuss a reasonable solution.

Your provider should have a clear complaints procedure to follow.

Disputes involving invoices and billing should be resolved based on the terms and conditions agreed in your Parent/Carer Agreement or other contract and not referred to the Local Authority.

The Local Authority will only become involved where there is a clear breach of the current FEL Code of Practice. Complaints will be forwarded to the appropriate department for investigation.

Where possible, we will endeavour to:

• Acknowledge the complaint either by telephone or in writing within 3 working days of receipt

• Investigate the complaint to ensure that the Provider is delivering the FEL to the statutory requirements

• Refer to the Parent/Carer Agreement signed by parent and Provider

• Inform all parties of the outcome of the complaint

You can contact us on:

When you join a provider you will be asked to complete a Parent/Carer Agreement or contract. This will consist of the following information:

Your child’s birth certificate or passport as proof of identity and eligibility.
Any eligibility reference number required for 2 year old FEL or the Extended FEL for 3 and 4 year olds.
Your National Insurance Number or National Asylum Seeker Number.
Parent/Carer and Provider declaration of the information provided.
Termly Pattern of Attendance, setting out the number of hours your child attends. This may be recorded on a separate form – see example Termly Pattern of Attendance Form in the Download section.
The form also asks your permission for the provider to apply for Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) and/or the Disability Access Fund (DAF) on your child’s behalf. These enable your provider to allocate additional resources to support your child.

Accessing FEL, EYPP or DAF does not affect your right to tax credits or any means tested benefits.

If your childcare costs decrease as a result of taking up a FEL place, you should notify any agency that disregards this cost from your income.

You should read and fully understand all of the information. Once the details have been understood and agreed by everyone involved, it should then be signed and dated by provider and parent and each party should keep a copy.

Once signed it is a legally binding contract that is enforceable by law. If you have any concerns about signing your Parent/Carer Agreement you can contact your nearest Citizen Advice Bureau. We cannot advise on legal matters.

You should inform any relevant authorities if your childcare costs have reduced (for example, let HMRC know if you claim Childcare Tax Credits to avoid accruing a debt).

In processing your personal information and any other information you provide about your family to us or your childcare provider, we must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998. Further information is available from the Information Commissioner

The information recorded on the Parent/Carer Agreement is kept for reference and to allow providers to check if you or your child are eligible for the different types of funding without having to ask you for the information again.

To ensure the privacy of your information and to let you know about your information rights as well as how your information may be used, we have produced the Privacy Notice, available in the Downloads and Links section.

For childcare costs in addition to the Government funded hours there are a number of schemes available:

Tax Free Childcare: for every £8 you pay in, the Government pays in £2.
Childcare vouchers: available through participating employers.
Tax Credits or Universal Credit.
Disability Living Allowance if eligible.
You cannot access all of these programmes at the same time, so you should research which one is best for you. A Childcare Calculator is available online to help work out what’s available.

More information on the different options is available at:

View all childminders in the Directory