Free Early Learning and Childcare hours

Last updated: 06/04/2023

In Scotland 3, 4 and some 2 year olds can get 1,140 hours per year of free Early Learning and Childcare. It is funded by the Scottish Government.

This works out at 30 hours per week of free childcare if you only use it during term time or 22 hours per week if you use it throughout the year.

Related links

See more information on Free Early Learning and Childcare.

Find out more about the help you can get with childcare costs from Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit.

Early Learning Payment can help with extra costs when your child starts nursery.

The free Early Learning and Childcare hours are available for:

  • All three and four year olds
  • Eligible two-year-olds

Can my two-year-old get the funded hours?

Your two-year-old can get funded early learning and childcare hours if:

  • They are looked after by a local council, the subject of a kinship care order or the subject of a guardianship order or
  • you are getting an eligible benefit

The eligible benefits are:

  • Income Support
  • income based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Incapacity or Severe Disablement Allowance
  • State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, but not Working Tax Credit and your income is £18,725 p/a or less
  • Child tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and your income is £7,455 p/a or less
  • support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Universal Credit and your household take-home pay, is £722 per month or less

What if my child stops being 'eligible' while they're still two?

Once your child has started using their free Early Learning and Childcare place they will not lose it even if your circumstances change. If you get a job or stop getting benefits your two year-old will still be entitled to their free place.

When does the childcare start?

This depends on your child’s birthday but is usually after your child turns three unless they are an eligible two year old. It can vary in different council areas so check their website for details.

If your child’s birthday is on or between 1 March – 31 August:

They will be eligible from August that year.

If your child’s birthday is on or between 1 September – 31 December:

They will be eligible from the January after their birthday.

If your child’s birthday is on 1 January – last day of February:

They will be eligible from the March/April following their birthday.

In some council areas you may be able to start your free hours earlier. Check with the council for more details.

You can find out when to apply from the council. You may need to apply up to a year in advance so check in plenty of time. If you miss a deadline, your child is still entitled to a place but it might be harder to get your first choice of nursery.

Is there flexibility in how I can use the hours?

In some council areas you can split your hours between different childcare providers. For example, you can use a nursery for part of the time and a childminder for the rest of the time. Contact your local council to find out what your options are.

What if my child is four and isn't starting school?

If your child is still four when they are due to start primary school, you can choose to wait until the following year when your child is five before they start school.

If you choose this option, known as ‘deferred entry’, your access to free Early Learning and Childcare hours might differ depending on your child’s birthday and the council area you live in:

  • If their fifth birthday is in January or February, they will automatically get an extra year of free hours
  • If their fifth birthday is after the start of autumn term in August but before January, you will need to apply to the council to ask for an extra year of funding
  • If your council does not agree to fund the extra year, you can still wait a year till your child starts school but you will have to fund the childcare yourself for that year

Find out more from your local council.