Scotland – Free childcare for children aged 2, 3 & 4
In Scotland government funded early learning and childcare is available to some children aged 2 and all children aged 3-4.
There are similar schemes in England and Wales.
Please note: we are not aware of any plans by the Scottish government to expand free childcare in line with the expanded scheme in England for working parents.
If your child is aged 2:
You can get 1,140 hours of free childcare a year (approximately 30 hours a week during term time) for your 2-year-old if you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit or you or your child have experience of care.
The qualifying benefits are:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Incapacity Benefit
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- State Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit, but not Working Tax Credit – if your household income from work is £17,005 a year or less.
- Child Tax Credit, and Working Tax Credit – if your household income from work is £7,920 a year or less.
- Universal Credit – if your household income from work is £660 (net) a month or less.
- Support through part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (Support for Asylum Seekers)
Even if you are not receiving a qualifying benefit your 2-year-old can still get free childcare if any of the following apply:
If you as a parent have experience of care, your 2-year-old can also access free childcare.
If you do not meet any of the above criteria it is still worth checking with your local council whether you could get free childcare for your 2-year-old. Some local councils offer free childcare to children who do not meet the usual eligibility criteria. Check with your local council for more information.
Once your 2-year-old child qualifies for free childcare, you will continue to receive it even if you have a change of circumstances such as no longer qualifying for benefits.
If your child is aged 3-4:
All children aged 3-4 are entitled to 1,140 hours of free childcare a year (approximately 30 hours a week during term time). There are no work or earnings requirements and you do not have to be in receipt of certain benefits or meet any other eligibility criteria.
Some local councils may offer more than 30 hours. You will need to contact your local council to find out if this is something they offer.
How to apply:
To apply for free childcare you will need to contact your local council. When you should apply depends on your child’s birthday and your local council’s process. Some councils only accept applications at certain points in the year, which could be up to a year in advance. It is worth checking with your local council when you should apply well in advance to give you a higher chance of securing childcare with your preferred provider. If you miss the deadline your child will still be eligible, but you may not be able to get the childcare from your preferred provider.
When can the free childcare start?
If your child is eligible the free childcare will start at the beginning of a school term.
If your child’s birthday is between:
- 1 March-31 August the free childcare will start in August (autumn tern)
- 1 September-31 December the free childcare will start in January (spring term)
- 1 January-last day of February the free childcare will start in March or April (summer term)
Frequently asked questions
Below is a summary of the most frequently asked questions we receive about the free childcare schemes in Scotland on our helpline.
I earn over £100,000 a year. Am I entitled to free childcare for 3 to 4 year-olds?
There are no work or earnings requirements for 1,140 hours of free childcare for 3-4 year-olds. Therefore, it does not matter whether you or your partner individually or jointly earn over £100,000 a year, you will still be eligible for the free childcare.
I’m claiming free childcare but my circumstances have changed. Will it affect my eligibility?
My child is aged 2
Once you have been accepted for free childcare for your 2-year-old child, it will continue even if you have a change of circumstances such as an increase in income, or no longer qualifying for benefits.
My child is aged 3-4
The free childcare is universally available to all 3-4 year-old children. There is no work or earnings requirements and you do not have to meet any other eligibility criteria so a change in your circumstances does not make a difference to your entitlement.
My child has reached primary school age, but isn’t starting school yet. Are we still eligible for free childcare?
If your child is aged 4 on the date they are due to start primary school, you can defer your child’s entry to primary school by a year. If you do this you will automatically get an extra year of free childcare if their 5th birthday is in January or February.
If your child’s 5th birthday is after the beginning of the autumn term, in August, but before 1 January you will need to apply to your local council for extra funding. It is up to your council whether to give you extra funding in this situation, but even if you don’t get extra funding you can still defer their school entry.
I’m a student. Am I eligible for free childcare for my 2-year-old?
You can be, if you meet the eligibility requirements. If you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit or your or your child are care experienced, you may be eligible for free childcare for your 2-year-old. Free childcare for 3-4-year-olds is a universal entitlement and is not affected by being a student.
Using the free hours entitlement
My childcare provider says I must use the free hours in a particular way. Are they correct?
Each childcare provider has a different approach to the government scheme, and how the free hours are used are typically down to your agreement with them. If you have an issue, you should speak to your childcare provider or local council.
The 1,140 hours entitlement is usually taken as 30 hours a week over term time (38 weeks of the year). With the agreement of your childcare provider, you can use the hours in term time only or stretch the hours out over more than 38 weeks. If you stretch the hours out over 52 weeks, you would receive 22 hours per week.
Some childcare providers are flexible in their approach, and others require you to use up the free hours in a particular way (e.g. in a set number of full days or half days). This is typically down to your agreement with them.
Can I use free childcare while claiming help with childcare costs through Universal Credit, Tax Credits, Tax-Free Childcare or Childcare Vouchers?
Whether you are receiving free childcare for a 2, 3 or 4 year-old child, you can use free childcare at the same time as help with childcare costs through Universal Credit, Tax Credits, Tax-Free Childcare and Childcare Vouchers. You can claim help through these schemes for any childcare that you pay for in addition to free childcare you use.
This advice applies in Scotland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details. If you are in Northern Ireland you can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.
The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.
We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.