While the Childcare Act 2006 states that early education funding cannot be claimed by those providing childcare for related children (see box), it appears there has been some confusion among local authorities, with some allowing childminders to claim for a child or grandchild in their care.
One council said several local authorities 'recently' contacted the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted for clarification on the relevant sections of the statutory guidance, and that this is thought to be before the DfE published updated guidance last July, effective from September 2013. However, the rules of the Childcare Act still apply.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'The Childcare Act makes it clear that childminders cannot claim early years funding for their own child or a related child, even if they are claiming funding for other children.
'In order to receive funding to deliver early education places a private or voluntary childcare provider or a childminder must be registered on the Ofsted Early Years Register.'
The DfE spokesperson added that while local authorities cannot use the Dedicated Schools Grant to fund childminders to deliver early education places for their own children or related children, they can however choose to fund a parent providing childcare for their child or a related child through other local authority funds.
At the end of last year, childminders in Hampshire received an email from the Professional Association of Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) on behalf of the county council, notifying them that from 1 April they would no longer be able to claim funding for a related child.
In the email, PACEY said, 'The DfE has recently updated local authorities on more robust guidance in relation to childminders who are approved EYE providers claiming for their own child.
'Such guidance will therefore be reflected in Hampshire County Council's pending revision of its Early Years Education Payment Funding terms and conditions. An updated version will be in place in line with the new financial year (1 April 2014).
'Hampshire County Council acknowledges that approved providers who may currently be claiming for their own child will need to secure alternative provision for the future to ensure their own child receives their full entitlement. Therefore, please be advised that the 1 Jan-31 March 2014 funding will be the last funding period the local authority will be able to approve EYE funding in such cases.'
Councillor Keith Mans, executive lead member for children's services at Hampshire, said, 'PACEY has emailed childminders on our behalf to advise them that the Department for Education has made it clear that early education funding cannot be claimed by parents providing childcare, to spend on their own children. This funding can only be spent on the children in their care that are eligible for early education financial support.'
He added, 'There is no change to the ratio of children a childminder may care for, which remains at a maximum of six children under eight years of age, to include any children they are responsible for, whether that is their own children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces or step children and, for example, children they may be fostering.'
Childminders in Wiltshire have also reported recently being contacted by their local authority to inform them that they will no longer be able to claim for related children in their care.
Nursery World contacted Wiltshire Council for a comment, but it failed to provide one.
Another childminder said on Facebook that Cornwall Council stopped childminders from claiming funding for their own child this month. However, Cornwall Council denied this.
A spokesperson for the council told Nursery World, 'We have not had a need to pro-actively give out information about Department for Education guidance on this issue as we are not aware of any childminder who is currently in that situation.'
Childminders have spoken out against the move, which they say will have a detrimental effect on the income of those currently receiving funding for a related child or those who were looking to do so, particularly as the child will still be included within a childminder's ratios.
Writing on her blog, Worcestershire childminder Penny Webb of Penny's Place said, 'If a childminder is approved to offer an early years education place to other people's children then there is no reason why they can't provide the same quality of education for their own child or grandchild.
'The Government has acknowledged that childminders do not earn as much as other early years professionals. One way that childminders can increase their income is being able to claim funding for their child's early years education. Childminding regulations mean that a childminder's own children count for ratio reasons. This means that a childminder cannot use their child's place for another child at any time.
'For some childminders, this loss of income will make the difference between their childminding income being sufficient to being unmanageable, and as a result they may have to give up childminding and look for another job.
'In my opinion, it is time the Government looked at the bigger picture and the cost implications of the requirement in the Childcare Act 2006 for parents not being able to claim for their own child's childcare costs or early years education funding.'
She added, 'It would not surprise me if this turns out to be the final straw, and an ever increasing number of childminders resign.'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, 'We're aware that some authorities have recently notified childminders in their areas of this change; we've also been told that the DfE has circulated revised guidance on the relevant sections of the Childcare Act 2006, which clearly states that a childminder cannot claim funding for providing childcare for their own children. This mirrors the way other types of childcare funding are administered. Authorities of course consider such guidance and apply it to arrangements in their own area.
'Ultimately, we must remember that a childminder is someone providing a professional service to other people. A childminder claiming funding for their own children blurs the line between childminding and parenting - that itself is a longer-term risk to the sustainability of the profession.
'Nonetheless, this clarification will mean changes for a few childminders and it will have complex implications for their settings. PACEY is focused on ensuring more childminders actually deliver the free entitlement, tackling issues like the fee paid to deliver the free entitlement and making sure eligible families take up the offer - as well as getting more local authorities to recognise the vital and unique settings in which childminders provide places.'
Ms Bayram went on to say that there is an administrative challenge for local authorities in determining if children are related to a childminder claiming funding, particularly for grandparent childminders.
Carrie Merry, a childminder from Hampshire, told Nursery World that she may have to give up the profession as she was relying on the funding to provide care for her son, something she claims PACEY encouraged her to do.
She said, 'I'm very disappointed to hear that the rules have been changed, especially considering this has been encouraged and used as an incentive by PACEY.
'As encouraged by PACEY in the beginning of my childminding career in 2012, I have a business plan that includes the expectation that I would receive this money for my son. This puts me in a very difficult financial situation. I'm now having to consider alternative job options.'
PACEY's Ms Bayram said, 'I know for certain that central staff don't give that advice as we are aware that childminders can't claim funding to care for their own or a related child. This information may have been given during a regional meeting, at a training event or by a volunteer.
'We don't encourage people to claim the entitlement for their own child as it's not a sustainable business. For the vast majority of childminders the free entitlement is not even on their radar.'
WHAT THE CHILDCARE ACT SAYS ABOUT CLAIMING FUNDING FOR RELATIVES
Local authorities in England have a legal duty under section 7 of the Childcare Act 2006 to secure funded early years provision for eligible two-year-olds and all three- and four-year-olds in their area. www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/21/section/7
Section 20 of the Childcare Act 2006, 'The meaning of early years provision', defines early years provision as the 'provision of childcare for a young child'.www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/21/section/20
Under section 18 (4, the 'Meaning of childcare', the act states that 'Childcare does not include care provided for a child by a) a parent or step-parent of the child ... and c) a relative of the child).'
It goes on to say in paragraph 8 c) that a 'relative, in relation to a child, means a grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister, whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership.