15 hours free childcare (for 3 and 4 year olds)
Every child aged 3 and 4 is eligible to access free early learning and childcare. This is known as the Early Year Free Entitlement. The free entitlement becomes available in the free entitlement period after the child's third birthday until the period after their fifth birthday.
Once a child is of school age and attends a Local Authority school, the school will receive the free entitlement allocation and therefore no allocation will be available to claim at childcare provider. Independent schools, however, are eligible to continue supplying the free entitlement until the period after a child's fifth birthday, as the Local Authority does not supply school funding. The Department for Education has set the dates for the free entitlement periods as:
- September Period - between 1 September - 31 December
- January Period – between 1 January - 31 March
- April Period – between 1 April - 31 August
All children of eligible age, regardless of whether they have British citizenship, are entitled to claim the free entitlement.
Where Can my Child Access the Free Entitlement?
Your child must be attending a registered childcare provider such as a day nursery, a pre-school, an accredited network childminder or a maintained nursery class that has been approved by the Borough to offer the free entitlement. A full list of all registered providers can be obtained via this Directory.
What is my Child's Entitlement?
Every eligible child is entitled to up to 15 hours per week over 38 weeks of the year. However, although this free provision must be available over at least 38 weeks of the year, this does not prevent the entitlement being stretched over more than 38 weeks of the year, when taking fewer than 15 hours a week. If you are in full time employment this arrangement may better support you.
You can take up as much or as little as you wish of the 15 hours free entitlement per week and this can be accessed on a flexible basis throughout the week, as long as it is in line with a childcare provider's capacity to deliver. It can be taken between 8.00am and 4.00pm, subject to the childcare providers' daily sessions, up to a maximum of 6 and a half hours in one day, 12 and a half in two days, or 15 hours per week across three or more days. A childcare provider is not expected to meet every parental demand for flexibility. Each provider will set the hours when they will deliver the free entitlement. It is recommended that you discuss with each provider you are considering when it is available.
Although the free entitlement can cover the hours over the lunch period, the free entitlement does not include the meal and this can be charged for. Any charge made for lunch should be agreed with you in advance, but the option of providing a packed lunch will be available if you prefer.
A Free Place for every 3 and 4 Year Old?
The free entitlement is a free place for each eligible child. Therefore, you should not, in order to take-up the free hours, be obligated to purchase additional hours, pay registration or administration fees, buy uniforms or pay lunch time charges in order to take up the free place.
You should not be charged any top-up amounts in relation to the free hours and no other costs should be added for the free hours. Therefore a child taking only its 15 hours free entitlement would result in no charge being made to the parent. It is recommended that you discuss any additional fees with your chosen childcare provider before taking up the place.
Many parents choose to purchase additional hours at the same provider where they access their free entitlement. The rates which can be charged for privately funded hours are a matter between the provider and the parent to decide and are not dictated by the Borough of Poole. However, it is expected in these instances that parents will be provided with a bill.
The Borough will not investigate any financial concerns from a parent regarding the purchase of additional services agreed between the parent and the childcare provider, unless there is an indication that it has impacted on their free entitlement.
How does the Entitlement Work?
Once you have chosen your childcare provider, they will explain to you when the free entitlement will begin and confirm the availability of places. You will then be asked to complete a ‘Parental Agreement’ form signing up to the terms and conditions of the free entitlement. Your child's free entitlement will not begin without this form. Your child's childcare provider will return all forms to the Borough of Poole and claim the free entitlement on your behalf - you do not need to do anything else.
You should be aware that this document is a legally binding contract and you should read it carefully and discuss any issues with the childcare provider.
If you need help with finding suitable childcare, contact our Childcare Brokerage Service.
Can My Child Attend For More Than The Full Entitlement?
Yes, but only a maximum entitlement of 15 hours per week will be free and you will be required to pay any provider costs for the additional hours.
Is My Child Eligible for the Free Entitlement with more than One Provider?
Children develop best from attending one childcare provider who, in communication with you, will track their progress and deliver activities to support their learning through the Early Years Foundation Stage.
Where it is not feasible for a provider to offer the full 15 hours you can choose anther provider to work with your preferred one, so they may jointly plan the development of your child’s progress.
You will be required to complete a parental contract for each childcare provider. On the contract you are required to state which other childcare provider your child attends. However, your child will only be able to take the maximum of 15 hours per week.
If your child attends a maintained nursery class, the free entitlement is allocated to the school and no hours will be available to be claimed at another childcare provider.
How do I change providers and still receive the free entitlement?
Once you have completed a parental contract with a provider you have signed up to have your child's free entitlement with that provider.
The free entitlement will not automatically transfer with your child to your new provider if you decide to move your child during the free entitlement period. The free entitlement will only be transferred for the following reason:
- Moving house
- Sibling moving / starting school
- Change in, gained or lost employment
- Change in primary carer
- Safety or quality concerns with childcare provider
- Not taking childcare anywhere within the Borough
- At the end of a free entitlement period
You will need to give reasonable notice to your childcare provider, please refer to the contract you signed with the provider for further details. They will ask you to complete a transfer form requesting the transfer of your child's free entitlement and advising of the reason for transfer, preferably before moving or within 2 weeks of transfer. This form can be obtained from your old or new childcare provider.
Completion of the form does not mean your request will be granted. Each transfer application is carefully considered and validated under a written local Code of Practice. Therefore you cannot assume your transfer request will be approved. The decision will be given to your existing and new provider. Your provider will need to let you know accordingly.
What additional charges might I be asked to pay?
A provider cannot charge for the free entitlement but may charge for additional services or further hours. You should discuss with your childcare provider what additional services are available over and above the free entitlement, and the charges these may incur.
What happens if I live in Poole but my child uses a provision in Bournemouth or Dorset?
If your child is attending a registered provision outside the Borough, then the Local Authority covering that childcare provider will fund your free entitlement hours. Please contact your provider for details.
What happens if I live in Bournemouth or Dorset but my child attends a provision in Poole?
If you live outside the Borough but attend a registered provision within Poole then you will be eligible to the free entitlement detailed in this leaflet.
If I am claiming Working Tax Credit will this affect my free entitlement?
If you claim the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit you must declare the free entitlement when you apply for Working Tax Credit or when this is reviewed.
It is important to inform the Tax Credit Helpline you are receiving the free entitlement otherwise your Tax Credit may be reclaimed.