Free early education places

What you need to know about your free childcare

A free place means that children can access a total of 570 hours of free early education each year.

You can take your free place either termly (over 38 weeks i.e. 15 hours per week) or spread over the year (47.5 weeks i.e. 12 hours per week), if available at your chosen childcare provider.

Free sessions cannot be less than 2.5 hours or more than 10 hours in any one day – ask your provider for the times of their free places or view a list of free entitlement sessions.

You can choose to only take the free place, and this is completely free to you, but you cannot choose what times the free place is available – ask your provider for the times of their free places.

Your child can take a packed lunch if you do not wish to purchase a meal from your provider.

If you attend two childcare settings, e.g. a nursery and a pre-school, you can choose to use your free place at one setting or split the hours between the two – if you choose to do this the combined hours must not be more than 15 hours per week.

The parent contract form

You must complete and sign a parent contract form and hand it to your provider before your child takes up their free place. This confirms the free hours which your child receives and the date your child will take up their free place.  This is a contract and it is legally binding between you and the provider.  You must check what you are signing and query anything you are not certain about with your provider. 

Whilst your child is entitled to a free place there is no guarantee that you will be able to access a free place if you join a setting part way through the term.  This is because the final claims are due to be submitted by providers on or around the half term week.  You need to check with the provider if you are able to access a free place or if you will have to wait until the start of the next term.  If you are able to take up a free place you must complete the parent contract form immediately and also provide a copy of your child’s birth certificate.

Requirement for four weeks' notice during term time

If you remove your child from a setting where they are receiving a free place you must give the provider at least four weeks’ notice during the school term.  The new provider will not be able to claim the funding unless you have given the correct notice during the school term to the previous setting.  The new provider will charge you for the place at their setting because they will not be able to claim the funding.  

This means that it is not sufficient notice to inform your provider at the end of the term or during the school holidays that your child is leaving the setting as this is not the school term.  If you inform your provider, for example, on 25 July that your child is going to start at a new setting in September; the new provider will not be able to claim the first four weeks of the autumn term as the previous setting was not given four weeks’ notice during the summer term.  

You should also make sure that you notify your provider in writing (this can include email) that your child is leaving and make sure that you have proof of receipt.

What you can expect from your provider

The providers can set which sessions or days are available for free places i.e. setting opens 9am to 12.30pm with free places 9am to 12noon.

They can charge a different rate for time taken in addition to free places, but must ensure parents are made aware of this before accepting a place .

The providers cannot attach any special conditions on children accessing their free place e.g. make you take all your free place with them or insist that you pay for extra time or lunches to access your free place.

A free place is free but be prepared to receive a bill if your child attends a setting for extra time in addition to the free place i.e. child attends 9am to 12.15pm (5 days a week for a 14 week term) and the setting charge £5 for the extra 15 minutes – you can expect a bill for £350 for the term.

Payments and bills explained

Bromley Council pays your chosen provider directly for the free place that you receive.

If you buy extra time in addition to your free place, any bill/invoice you receive should be clear and show the amount charged for the extra time – it must not show the money received from Bromley Council deducted from the total bill.

You do not have to pay towards a free place and providers are not allowed to charge you any difference between their own prices and the money received from Bromley Council. 

You do not have to buy additional time or services such as lunches or uniform if your child is accessing only the free place.