Childcare funding for children with additional needs

Childcare funding for children with additional needs

  • This article explains what childcare funding is available to parents and childcare providers.

    Free Early Learning

    Free Early Learning (FEL) is a government-funded programme that provides free childcare for pre-school children. It has been around for many years, and is currently being expanded to include more families. Whether your child is eligible for FEL depends on many factors, including their age and your income; please see our overview below. Free childcare places are available at approved nurseries, pre-schools, schools and childminders. Childcare providers can charge extra for meals, snacks, consumables like nappies or sun cream, and services like trips.

    Three- and four-year-olds

    ALL three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 570 hours of free childcare per year. This is usually taken as 15 hours per week, for 38 weeks of the year. The entitlement increases to 30 hours per week, for 38 weeks of the year, for eligible working parents*.


    Parents of two-year-olds can get 15 hours of free childcare per week (for 38 weeks of the year), if they receive certain state benefits – such as Income Support, Tax Credits or Universal Credit. Parents also qualify if they are not eligible for benefits due to their immigration status but have limited income and savings.

    From 1 April 2024, eligible working parents* of two-year-olds also qualify for 15 hours of free childcare.

    In addition, two-year olds are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare if they have an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan or get Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – this is regardless of their parents’ income or benefit entitlements.


    From September 2024, all eligible working parents* of children aged nine months to three years will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare per week, for 38 weeks of the year. This will increase to 30 hours per week from September 2025.

    More information

    For more information about Free Early Learning and how to apply, please see this article on the Sheffield Directory.

    *Eligible working parents are those who earn at least £2,167 every 3 months on average, if they are 23 or older (amounts are lower for younger parents). In two-parent households, BOTH parents must be earning above this threshold. This does not apply if one of the partners is disabled or has substantial caring responsibilities (e.g. receives Carer’s Allowance).

    SEND funding for childcare providers

    Childcare providers can access additional funding to support pre-schoolers with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). This money is paid to the provider, not the parents. There are two sources of funding:

    Disability Access Fund

    This is money given to Early Years providers to help support children with SEND in their setting. Providers can claim an annual payment of £910 per child, for all children in receipt of DLA who are accessing any of the free early learning entitlements listed above. It’s the provider who is responsible for identifying eligible children – so please make sure they know if your child gets DLA!

    Early Years Inclusion Fund

    Every local authority must have an Early Years Inclusion Fund to support Early Years providers in meeting the needs of individual children with SEND. In Sheffield, this funding is allocated using the Sheffield Support Grid – a local guidance document used by staff in settings and other professionals to ensure that children with similar needs get a similar level of provision.

    Direct payments for childcare

    If you cannot find suitable childcare for your child, then you may be able to get a direct payment for childcare. This money can be used to employ a Personal Assistant (PA) to look after your child while both parents (if it’s a two-parent household) are at work. It’s based on the assumption that the PA will be paid the national minimum wage of £11.44 per hour; Sheffield City Council will pay £6.41 towards this as a direct payment, and the family has to fund the rest. For more information, please see this article on the Local Offer.

    Get help

    If you are struggling to find a suitable childcare provider for your pre-schooler with SEND, the 0-5 SEND Service may be able to help. If your child has a diagnosis of vision impairment, hearing impairment or autism, then you should contact the relevant support service instead. Please see our page Support organisations for details.

Page last updated: 10th May 2024