Free Early Learning and Childcare hours

Last updated: 08/12/2020

In Scotland 3 and 4 year olds and some 2 year olds can get 600 hours per year of free Early Learning and Childcare funded by the Scottish Government.

These hours were expected to rise to 1140 in August 2020 but this has been delayed.

Related links

Find out more about the help you can get with childcare costs from tax credits or universal credit

Early Learning Grants 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 (around 25% of all 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 list of eligible benefits is:

  • Income Support (IS)
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (income based)
  • any income related element of Employment and Support Allowance
  • Incapacity or Severe Disablement Allowance
  • State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, but not Working Tax Credit and your income is £16,105 or less
  • Child tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and your income is £7,320 or less
  • support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Universal Credit and your household take-home pay, is £610 a month or less

In some local authorities you may be able to start your free hours even earlier, so please get in touch with them directly to find out.

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

Once your child has started funded their free Early Learning and Childcare, they won’t be disqualified. Even if you get a job, stop getting benefits or the child’s parent/carer situation changes, your two-year-old will be able to continue their free place.

When can I start claiming?

This depends on your child’s birthday – usually the first new time after your child turns three, unless they are an eligible two-year-old – and it can vary by council so it’s always best to ask them directly.

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.

Some councils ask people to apply at one point in the year, and some ask you to apply a year in advance. 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 settings. 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 month of birth 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

Each local authority has its own application process, deadlines and options which may be available to you. You can find a full list of the relevant contact details for your council's Early Learning and Childcare arrangements at the ParentClub website under 'How do I Apply'.

Find your council's details