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If your child is 3 or 4 years old, you can access up to 1140 hours of funded early learning and childcare (ELC) a year from the relevant start dates. This works out at around 30 hours a week in term time or around 22 hours a week if you use it year round. 

About a quarter of 2 year olds are also eligible – you can find out if your 2 year old is eligible for free childcare here. These hours are free to you, funded by the Scottish Government. You can find out more about this on our page about funded ELC hours

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Funding FAQs

What help can I get if I'm paying for ELC?

If you are paying for more hours of ELC, check out additional sources of help on the get to grips with childcare costs and benefits page.

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What kind of childcare can I use my hours for?

You can use your funded ELC hours to pay for any type of 'registered' childcare. This means childcare provided by individuals and organisations registered with the Care Inspectorate.

These include:

  • nurseries
  • playgroups
  • childminders
  • out of school care providers. 
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Can I use my hours to pay for a nanny?

You can use your funded hours to pay for any type of 'registered' childcare. So you can only use your funded hours to pay for a nanny if they’re registered with the Care Inspectorate.

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Do I have to use all the funded hours?

No, the hours are an entitlement, not a requirement, so you can choose to take all or some of the hours available to you.

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When can I start claiming?

It all depends on your child's birthday. Three year olds are eligible to start funded ELC from the relevant start date, which is usually the first new term after their third birthday. 

Around a quarter of 2 year olds are also entitled, so it’s well worth checking with your local authority to see if this applies to you.

Some local authorities have one point in a year when they accept applications – for example, some ask everyone to apply in January. Some ask you to apply a year in advance – so it's a good idea to find out how far in advance you need to apply. Your child will still be entitled to a place if you miss the deadline, but it could be harder to get your first choice.

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

They will be eligible from August (the start of the autumn term) that year – your local authority can give you exact dates.  

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

They will be eligible from January (the start of the spring term) following their birthday.  

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

They will be eligible from March/April (the start of the summer term) following their birthday. 

Local councils provide three start dates for a number of reasons. This includes ensuring smaller groups of children start at phased points, and to keep the system manageable and sustainable.

It's the responsibility of each local council to set their own local admission policies, including start dates. Remember that your local council might have its own rules on when your child can start, so some children may be able to start earlier. Use the dropdown list above to check what the rules are in your area.

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Can my child continue to receive ELC if we defer their school entry?

If your child is still 4 years old on the date they are due to start primary school, you can choose to defer your child's entry to primary school by a year. Your child will be entitled to funded ELC during their deferred year. You can find out more about deferral here.

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Can I split my entitlement over different settings?

Yes, you can split your entitlement over different settings. For example you can use a childminder some days and school nursery for other days. It’s best to check with your local council about options in your local area.

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Can I get help with any extra costs?

Funded hours are free and you won't have to pay any fees in relation to your funded hours. 

Your setting may charge for additional extras but these will be optional and limited to, for example, snacks (excluding snacks provided through the Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme), costs of outings or extracurricular activities.

Many nurseries may have outdoor jackets or play suits which children can put on to go outdoors. 

If you're worried about how you'll be able to pay for the wee extras, such as coats and boots, why not check out the Best Start Early Learning payment as you might be eligible for a payment to help with costs like these.

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Who do I contact if I have any questions about my child’s funded ELC, even if they haven’t started yet?

If you have any questions about your child’s funded ELC, you should first speak to your child’s setting or the setting you would like your child to attend. You should also speak to your local authority as they have overall responsibility for providing funded ELC to children in their area. Even if your child hasn’t started funded ELC yet, if you have questions you can speak to a setting you want to apply to or to your local authority – you can find contact details for your local authority using the dropdown list above.

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Is there any other help available to me with childcare costs?

In addition to the 1140 hours, you may be able to get help with childcare costs through tax credits for childcare, tax-free childcare or universal credit for childcare. Visit the Childcare Choices website to find out more.

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Entitlement for 2 year olds

How can I find out what 2 year old funded places are available in my area?

Your local council will give you details of all the providers that offer places for 2 year olds or let you know what to do if your choice is not currently a funded provider.

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When can my 2 year old start accessing funded ELC?

2 year olds can start receiving funding early under a few different circumstances. This includes if they’re under the care of the local council, a family member or other person appointed by the court or if their household is already receiving certain benefits. Some councils also offer additional funded places to 2 year olds, so it’s always best to check directly with your local authority to get the most up-to-date information.

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If my 2 year old is subject to a kinship care or guardianship order, or is looked after by the local authority, when will they eligible?

From the child’s 2nd birthday or from the point that they are looked after under a kinship care order, or with a parent appointed guardian.

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If you have just started receiving a qualifying benefit and your child is already 2, when can they start?

If your child is already 2 when you start receiving an eligible benefit then they can start the term after you start receiving the benefit. Some local authorities have their own rules, so it's always best to check directly with your local authority in case you can start even earlier.

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What happens if my circumstances change? Will my 2 year old lose their funded place?

No, your child won’t lose their funded place. Once your child has started funded ELC, they will stay qualified. So even if you get a job, stop getting one of the qualifying benefits or the child’s parent/carer situation changes – your 2 year old will still have access to funded ELC.

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Can I choose which setting my 2 year old will attend?

At the moment it’s not always possible to choose exactly where your child attends but local authorities should be thinking about what families in their area need when they are deciding what places are available. Check with your local authority about which settings you can access for your 2 year old.

To get in touch with your local council, use the dropdown list above.

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