How to apply for 15/30 hours free childcare

The Free Early Education Entitlement currently offers 15 hours of early education for 38 weeks each year. This is available to all three- and four-year-old children and the most disadvantaged two-year-olds in England.

This universal offer for three- and four-year-olds was extended to 30 hours for children of working parents in September 2017.

While the universal entitlement is focused on supporting child development, the government aim of this extension is that “Additional free childcare will help families by reducing the cost of childcare and will support parents into work or to work more hours should they wish to do so”.

Apply by 31 December to get a code to use for the term starting in January.

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  • Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) and 15/30 hours free childcare are two separate government schemes, but they use the same online application process
  • You can apply for 15/30 hours free childcare and apply for/continue to receive childcare vouchers through your employer
  • You don’t have to apply for TFC to be eligible for the 15/30 hours free childcare
  • You can’t receive both TFC and childcare vouchers within your family
  • Analysis by Employers for Childcare shows that the majority of working families will be better off with childcare vouchers, tax credits or a combination of both, rather than TFC

* The first 15 hours of free childcare is available to all families. The additional 15 hours (to make 30 in total) is only available to working families who each earn between £6,240 and £100,000 a year.

Check what help you could get with your childcare costs, and which support might be best for you, using the childcare calculator.

Find out more about similar schemes in Scotland - external linkWales - external link / Cymru - external link, and Northern Ireland.

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For families in England, receiving some forms of supportWith 2-year-old children15 hours of free childcare or early education a week.png

Maternity leave / shared parental leave and childcare vouchers – your questions answered

Recently, with the childcare voucher scheme closing to new entrants from April 2018, we’ve had a few calls from parents asking how maternity leave / shared parental leave affects childcare vouchers.

A main area of confusion is the need to receive a voucher in every rolling 12-month period in order to remain eligible for childcare vouchers.

Depending on your employer’s scheme rules, this may mean you can’t take the full 12 months maternity leave if you want to remain on the scheme.

A possible way around this is to ask your employer if they’re willing to fund a childcare voucher as part of a ‘Keep in touch’ day during your maternity leave. This can be for the minimum amount - with Computershare it’s £20.

If you become ineligible for childcare vouchers after April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option, assuming you’re eligible. (You won’t be able to re-join your employer’s childcare voucher scheme as it will have closed to new entrants.)

(Shared parental leave (SPL) is unlikely to be affected in the same way as maternity leave as the SPL will be split into two parts.)

Here are answers to other baby-related questions we get asked on a regular basis:


As this is your first baby you can’t apply until the child is born.

You can register for childcare vouchers once the baby is born, providing this is before the childcare voucher scheme closes to new entrants in April 2018.

You can then place an ‘advance order’ order up to 12 months in advance, for when you return to work or have a paid ‘keep in touch day’ during your maternity leave / shared parental leave. With Computershare, this ‘advance order’ can be for as little as £20.

Your partner, if you have one, can also register for childcare vouchers as soon as your child is born, providing their employer runs a childcare voucher scheme too.

If your child is due after April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option (assuming you’re eligible) as your employer’s childcare voucher scheme will have closed to new entrants.


Since this isn’t your first child, you and your partner can apply for childcare vouchers today.

Childcare vouchers can be stored in your electronic childcare account to be used as and when you need them – for any child up to the age of 15, and for any registered carer. Many parents build up an account balance before they start using registered childcare.

As long as you register for childcare vouchers prior to April 2018 (when the scheme closes to new entrants) and place an order in every rolling 12-month period, you and your partner will remain eligible for childcare vouchers.

If you don’t register on your employer’s childcare voucher scheme before April 2018 then Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) will be your only option (assuming you’re eligible) as your employer’s childcare voucher scheme will have closed to new entrants.


The short answer is ‘yes’ but it’s best to check with your employer as their scheme rules can vary and this could impact your eligibility.

  • If you’re on an enhanced maternity leave / shared parental leave package, there may be sufficient funds to continue paying for the childcare vouchers from your salary
  • If you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), many employers will continue to pay for your childcare vouchers - you’re not allowed to salary sacrifice your SMP or ShPP for a childcare voucher. But some employers may ask you to stop your order.

Yes, but you need to ensure that you both place at least one order for vouchers in every rolling 12-month period to remain eligible for the childcare voucher scheme. This can simply be for the minimum amount - with Computershare it’s £20.


There’s lot of eligibility criteria for TFC, so we recommend you use our Decision Tree to see if you (and your partner, if you have one) are eligible in the first instance.

Assuming you’re eligible for both schemes, and to give yourself the luxury of time, we recommend that you and your partner, if you have one, register for childcare vouchers before April 2018.

You can then take your time working out which scheme is best for you and your family - it’s important to remember that once you’ve joined the TFC scheme, you can’t switch to childcare vouchers at a later date. But you can switch from childcare vouchers to TFC, even after April 2018.


In March 2016 an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled employers do not have to provide childcare vouchers during maternity leave when offered through salary sacrifice, providing this is covered in their scheme rules.

As a result some (but not all) employers updated their scheme rules to allow them to stop childcare vouchers during maternity leave, so it’s best to check with your employer as their scheme rules can vary.

And finally….

Always remember your partner can receive vouchers whilst you are on maternity leave / shared parental leave, provided they’ve joined their employer’s scheme before April 2018.

For information about maternity pay / shared parental pay and leave visit the Money Advice Service.

For more information about Tax-Free Childcare visit

Still unsure about something? Feel free to ask a question in the comments and we’ll get right back to you!

Problems with key free childcare website probed

Problems with one of the government's key websites have been referred to Chair of the Treasury Committee Nicky Morgan, who has demanded an explanation from Revenue and Customs, which runs the site.

Technical issues have meant that parents are unable to open accounts for the government's new 30-hour childcare scheme, meaning that they can't pay their childcare providers. Providers have also been affected, with some of them unable to register, and therefore unable to fill their spaces.

From the Independent: “It’s concerning that some parents have struggled to apply for childcare funding due to technical issues with the Government’s childcare service website,” Nicky Morgan said.

“To make matters worse, it appears that the childcare service helpline, for parents suffering problems with the website, is also experiencing technical difficulties.“

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, representing 14,000 providers, described the problems as “unacceptable”.

Read the full article.

Everything you need to know about TFC explained by

If you're looking for a thorough explanation of all things Tax-Free Childcare, then look no further. This article from explains everything you need to know, including what the scheme is, how it works, and the eligibility criteria. It also has a really handy infographic explaining how TFC compares to Childcare Vouchers.

If you're confused about TFC, and unsure whether you'll be better off with TFC or Childcare Vouchers, it's a great place to start.

Win Your Child’s Height in Books is back!

Win Your Child’s Height in Books is back!

Our annual Facebook competition is back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of World Book Day on 2 March. It’s one of our favourite times of the year here at Computershare as we love celebrating books and authors, but most importantly, celebrating the love for reading.

There’s nothing better than getting hooked on a new book and discovering new gems that quickly become firm favourites. That’s why we want to give you a chance to win a big pile of books for your child.

Read More

Choosing your out of school care

Choosing your out of school care

Out of schools clubs, also called breakfast or homework, are used by working parents to help with childcare outside of core school hours. 

They vary greatly in size, hours and activities. To help you choose the one that is right for you and your child, we have prepared a checklist and some more information. 

Clubs are often held in your child’s school, but can also take place in other local schools or community centers. Staff would then escort the children to the different location. They are usually organised per age group, and along with homework support, allow children to spend time with their friends playing games or doing arts and crafts. 

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