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What’s your child entitled to?

If your child is 3 or 4 years old, you can get up to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare a year (around 16 hours a week in term time). 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 and local authorities. In some areas, more hours may be available. You can find out more about this on our page about increased ELC hours increased ELC hours.

How do I apply?

Your local authority will have its own application process for getting funded ELC, so it’s always best to check with them how it works where you live. You might have to apply quite early so check with your local authority how and when to register your child.

Funding FAQs

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

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

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.

When can I start claiming?

It all depends on your child's birthday. Usually it’s the first new term after your child turns three years old. 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 – some ask everyone to apply in January, some ask you to apply a year in advance – so 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 (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 (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 (summer term) following their birthday.

One thing to remember is that your local authority might have its own rules on when your child can start, so some children can start earlier. Make sure you check how things might be different in your area.

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

If your child is still 4 years old on that date they are due to start primary school, you can choose to defer your child's entry to primary school by a year.

If your child is deferring entry to school for a year, you can:

  • automatically get an extra year of early learning and childcare funding if their 5th birthday is in January or February
  • apply to your local authority and request an extra year of funding if their 5th birthday is after the beginning of the autumn term, in August, and before 1 January. Your local authority will decide if your child will get an extra year of funding. Even if your child is not granted an extra year of early learning and childcare funding, you can still choose to defer their entry to school for a year.

Can I split my entitlement over different settings?

Yes, in some local authority areas it’s already possible to split the hours over different settings e.g. use a childminder some days and school nursery for other days. It’s best to check with your local authority as to what they allow. From August 2020 the new entitlement means this could get even easier – check in with your local authority.

Can I get help with any extra costs?

Sometimes an ELC setting will ask you to pay for snacks, meals, or special day trips. Or they might ask that you provide things like nappies, wipes, suncream, or waterproofs/wellies for example. It all depends on the setting. But if you're worried about how you'll be able to pay for the wee extras, why not check out the Best Start Early Learning payment as you might be eligible to £250 to help with costs like these.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Authority, use the drop down list above.