Free play and learn for 2 year olds

Some two year olds may be entitled to free play and learn sessions. This can take place at a nursery, playgroup or with a childminder. If you are eligible, your child could receive 15 hours a week (term time only), or 11 hours a week (50 weeks a year).

Is my child eligible for a free place?

Your two year old can get free play and learn sessions if you live in England and get one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit - if you and your partner have a combined income from work of less than £15,400 a year after tax
  • Tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Support through part six of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

A child can also get free early education and childcare if any of the following apply:

  • they’re looked after by a local council
  • they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order

When could my child start?

If you qualify for free childcare, your child could take up their ‘play and learn’ sessions, the term after their second birthday.

When does my child qualify?

  • Child born between 1 April - 31 August: September term intake
  • Child born between 1 September - 31 December: January term intake
  • Child born between 1 January - 31 March: April term intake

How do I apply?

If you have received a golden ticket take it to your chosen nursery or childminder. They will check your code and tell you when your child can start. If you don’t have a golden ticket visit our Parent Portal where you can instantly check whether you are eligible. If you are eligible you will receive an email with your eligibility code. Take this to your chosen nursery or childminder who will check your code and tell you when your child can start.

Some parents cannot check their eligibility on the Parent Portal. You will need to contact us on 03000 268 913 for an application form if the children:

  • are looked after by the council
  • have a current statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care plan
  • have left care through special guardianship or an adoption or residence order
  • are in receipt of the Disability Living Allowance

If you don’t have access to a computer or need help to apply you can visit your local Children’s Centre or library or you can contact us for a paper copy.
Applications will not be considered until the beginning of the term that the child turns two.

Where can I access the play and learn sessions?

Visit our childcare search page where you can filter for 'free 2yr places'. Please contact each provider directly to find out about their vacancies and how the free hours can be taken.

What are the benefits of play and learn sessions?

Research shows children who go to good and outstanding nurseries, pre-schools and childminders make good progress with their language, physical and social development. When the time comes for school they settle in quickly and do well in their new class.

Places are available in good quality settings so you can be confident that your child is receiving quality education and childcare helping them with their early learning through giving them new experiences. It will give you the chance to spend time with other family commitments, do some training or study or take a part-time job.

Find out more

You can find answers to many of parent's enquiries in our free play and learn - frequently asked questions document.

Who to contact

Contact name
Childcare Places Team
03000 268 913

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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