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The cost of childcare can take up a substantial chunk of your wage each month. If you’ve got little ones, it’s important to budget carefully and do your research to make sure you’re claiming all the help that’s available.

According to new research, the parents of more than 78,000 two-year-olds in England are missing out on free childcare. To make sure you’re not one of these parents, we’re going to take you through who’s eligible for free childcare and how you can claim.

Missing out

Figures from the Department for Education show that 32 per cent of eligible two-year-olds are missing out on their free 15 hours of childcare each week.

The top 10 areas where the most children are missing out on free childcare include London, Birmingham, Essex and Manchester. London has the largest amount of eligible children not enrolled in free childcare, with 18,905 currently missing out.

Parents of two-year-olds have been able to claim 15 hours (a week) of funded early education since the end of 2013 – as long as they meet the relevant criteria.

Who’s eligible?

You could receive free-early education and childcare for your two-year old if you receive certain benefits. These include:

• Income Support,

• Jobseeker’s Allowance (income-based),

• Employment and Support Allowance (income-related),

Universal Credit,

Tax Credits (with an annual income of less than £16,190 before tax),

• State Pension Credit (the guaranteed element), or

• Working Tax Credit 4-week run-on (the payment you receive after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit).

You can also receive free childcare if you get support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act. The same goes for if your child receives Disability Living Allowance.

You can find out more about eligibility for free childcare here.

When can I start claiming?

The date you can start claiming will depend on your child’s birthday – see the table below for more information.

Child's Birthday When you can claim

1 January to 31 March

Beginning of term or after 1 April

1 April to 31 August

Beginning of term or after 1 September

1 September to 31 December

Beginning of term or after 1 January

So if your child was born on 6 April 2013, you could get free childcare when the next school year starts after 1 September 2016.

What about older children?

Free childcare isn’t just for two-year-olds. Children between the ages of three and four can get up to 570 hours of free early education and childcare a year. This is usually broken down into 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year.

The figures show that more children in this age group claim funded childcare, with 95 per cent of children benefiting this year. This suggests that parents only miss out on free childcare for their two-year-olds because they simply don’t know it exists.

Want to know what other help is available? You may also be able to claim Child Tax Credit to help towards childcare costs – just remember do this before Universal Credit rolls out to your area.

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