May 2024

Expansion to early childcare entitlements: eligibility codes issued and validated

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This publication provides a summary of the number of eligibility codes issued to parents of two-year-olds and the number of codes that have been validated by providers to date. The data is taken from DfE’s Eligibility Checking System (ECS) starting from the 2nd January 2024, when the window opened for parents to apply for the new 15-hour entitlement for the term starting April 2024. 

The total estimated number of eligibility codes has been separated into codes issued to parents via the childcare service and the percentage of codes validated by providers.

Headline facts and figures - 2024

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About these statistics

In order to access a government-funded childcare entitlement place, parents and carers must apply for an eligibility code which is then validated by early years providers or local authorities when a place has been secured at an early years setting. This release provides the number of eligibility codes issued to parents and the number of codes validated by providers or local authorities as at 2nd May 2024. 

Updates on the number of eligibility codes issued and validated will be published at the start of each term until the policy is fully rolled out in in 2026. Once available, this release will also include an estimate of the number of children in an entitlement place based on voluntary local authority returns.

Background to the policy

All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours a week of funded early education for 38 weeks of the year (term-time). In addition, since September 2017 three-and four-year-olds from families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage, and less than £100,000 per year, have been entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week, for 38 weeks a year.  

In 2023 the government announced that the entitlement would be extended to 30 hours free childcare per week for eligible working families for children aged nine months and older. The rollout of this policy is staggered such that from April 2024 eligible parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours free childcare. From September 2024 eligible working parents of children from the age of nine months will be able to access 15 hours free childcare, and from September 2025 all children aged nine months and above from eligible working families will be able to access 30 hours of free childcare per week, for 38 weeks a year.

Background to the data source

Parents apply and have their eligibility checked for the free childcare offer (also known as their ‘entitlement’) via HMRC’s Childcare Service. If a parent is found to be eligible, the Childcare Service will send an eligibility code to the parent and log that code in the Eligibility Checking System (ECS). Parents take their eligibility code to their chosen childcare provider and the provider checks that the eligibility code is valid. This is recorded via the ECS and is referred to throughout this publication as being ‘validated’. A parent must have generated an eligibility code, in advance of the start of term, and this must be validated to enable a child to access the offer.

Interpreting the data

Typically, fewer eligibility codes for childcare entitlement offers are validated than are issued (see methodology). The proportion of codes validated can be impacted by several factors, including: 

  • Parental behaviour. Parents may have applied for a code in advance of the term but subsequently decided that their child was not ready to attend a formal setting by the time the term began. Similarly, the parent may have an issued code but be yet to arrange or choose a preferred provider, or their child may not yet have taken up their place at their preferred provider.
  • Provider behaviour. The local chosen provider may not have a place available to offer, or may not offer entitlement funded hours. In these cases, the code is not validated, but the child may or may not be attending. This could also reflect a delay (a) while the provider makes a decision, for example if waiting for funding rate confirmation from their local authority, or (b) if the provider routinely validates codes for places taken up later in the term. 
  • Miscellaneous. There may be issues or delays in the ECS system, meaning a code was issued but not validated. For example, the code may have been issued but the LA has not validated the code, despite a provider confirming the place. Codes issued reflect codes applied for by the 31 March deadline, though a small number continue to be processed and issued beyond this date. This means a small number of parents may not have had chance to validate the code with their chosen provider and LA by 2nd May. Additionally, some codes were automatically issued to parents with Tax-Free Childcare accounts who may not have intended to apply for one (see methodology section for more details).

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