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Free childcare sessions for 2 year olds

Some two year olds are entitled to free childcare up until the school term after their third birthday at 'Play and Learn' sessions. This could be at a nursery, playgroup or with a childminder.


Did you know that even if you have never used childcare before, or if your own nursery or childminder is closed, there are many across the county who are happy to take your children if you are a key worker? This can be a temporary move while your usual provider is closed.

As part of our commitment to helping key workers, we have made extra resources available and have a dedicated team to help you find childcare.

If you normally receive funding such as the free early education entitlement at 15 or 30 hours childcare costs, this stays with your usual provider, but we are also providing additional funding to any setting you transfer to so that any costs that funding usually covers are not passed on to you.

You can look for childcare providers at Families Information Service (FIS) or email the Early Years team who will explore your options with you.

If you qualify, your child could receive 15 hours a week (term time only), or 11 hours a week (50 weeks a year).

Is your child eligible?

You can apply for a place if you receive one of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit - if you and your partner have a combined income from work of less than £15,400 a year after tax
  • Tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Support through part six of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

Your child will also qualify if they:

  • are looked after by the council
  • have a current statement of special educational needs or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • have left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order 

When your child can start

Your child is entitled to the childcare from the start of term following their 2nd birthday and the term up to and including the term in which they turn 3.

Child's second birthdayYou can applyYour child's place will begin
September - DecemberSeptember - DecemberJanuary
January - MarchJanuary - MarchApril
April - AugustApril - AugustSeptember

Who provides Play and Learn sessions 

Visit the Families Information Service website to search for childminders or nurseries in your area. Contact them directly to find out if they provide these sessions.

How to apply

During the school term that your child turns two, if you qualify for these sessions, we'll write to you. This will be your 'golden ticket', and will include an eligibility code.

Take this code to your chosen nursery or childminder who will check your code and tell you when your child can start.

If we do not write to you

You may still be eligible, if you don't receive a 'golden ticket. Check to see if you are eligible using the list above. You can register with or login to our Parent Portal to see whether you can claim these sessions. If you can, we'll email you your eligibility code. If you are eligible, take this to your chosen nursery or childminder who will check your code and tell you when your child can start.

We do not consider applications until the beginning of the term that the child turns two.

If you don't have access to a computer or need help to apply you can visit your local or libraries or contact us for a paper copy.

Where you must contact us directly

You must contact us (rather than use the Parent Portal) if your child:

  • is in foster care
  • is adopted
  • has a current statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care plan
  • receives Disability Living Allowance

What isn't included

Certain items may not be included, for example:

  • meals
  • nappies
  • sun cream
  • additional hours
  • additional activities (such as trips).

Childcare providers may charge a fee for these. If you choose to pay for these it is an arrangement between you and the childcare provider.

However, you must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 15 hours place, and must be offered alternative options (for example, providing your own food or nappies).

Contact us
Childcare places
03000 268 913
Our address is:
  • Childcare Places
  • Durham County Council
  • County Hall
  • Durham
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH1 5UJ
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