30 Hours - Ups and downs

Some parents of three-year-old children eligible for the 30 hours childcare offer discuss their experiences – both good and bad. By Meredith Jones Russell

The most common motivator for childminders, nurseries and pre-schools looking to implement the 30 hours childcare offer is the benefit it brings to parents, according to data company Ceeda. When the Government launched the offer in September 2017, it quoted a mother involved in the pilot scheme declaring the policy ‘the greatest gift a working parent can be given’.

But technical glitches, extra charges and confusion over what is available have contributed to a rocky start for the programme, and not all parents are convinced.

Nursery World spoke to some of them to see how they were finding the 30 hours offer so far.

VICTORIA GREYBROOK, TEACHER, ESSEX

Her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter attends the Colour Wheel Montessori Nursery in Braintree, Essex

‘For me the offer is a godsend. I work five days a week and I pay for childcare for four of those. A family member provides one day of childcare for free. I split the 30 hours across two settings, using 20 at the nursery and 10 with a childminder, as well as paying her for an extra 10 using childcare vouchers from my salary. I think it’s a real shame people won’t continue to get these in the future.

‘The nursery was very specific that the 30 hours offer was only feasible if the children would be in for a full 10-hour day, and this worked for me. I pay extra for food, but it is really quite an insignificant amount, and the meals are good quality and home cooked so I don’t mind. I also pay for an extra half an hour breakfast club in the morning so I can drop off at 7.30am and get to work on time.

‘The offer has allowed me to up my working hours, as before I was only able to work four days a week, and a family member was having to provide childcare for two of those days.

‘My childminder helped me through the process of signing up and reminded me when I was getting close to the deadline over Christmas. Setting it all up wasn’t too bad. The website is rubbish, but overall it wasn’t too onerous. Having to renew every 12 weeks is annoying as realistically I don’t believe anyone’s circumstances are going to change that quickly if they have gone to all the trouble of applying, but overall I found the process OK.’

HANNA-GAEL DARNEY, NURSE, BRISTOL

Her three-year-old son attends Amberley Hall Day Nursery in Clifton, Bristol

‘It’s quite hard to calculate whether we’re better off or not with the offer, but I’m just telling myself we are! I haven’t really got a handle on it properly as we were previously getting all our childcare on working tax credits because my husband is on disability living allowance. This year we were going to say no to the tax credits and just use the childcare offer, but they accidentally overpaid us, so we’ve had to keep using it. This makes it hard to say yet whether we’re better off or not.

‘The process of signing up for the 30 hours is much more straightforward than tax credits, it’s just annoying having to redo it every three months. Getting back into your account is complicated. I actually had to Google how to do it, and I found that lots of people on forums had been asking the same question and saying it’s ridiculous to have to log in again as a new user rather than just having a “renew” button. But once you know all those things, it is fine, and it definitely gets easier once you’ve gone through it a few times.

‘Initially we had to use our allowance in five-hour blocks on certain days only, but now the nursery has said we can use it in 10-hour blocks, which is much better for me as a nurse because it’s more flexible.

‘I often have to do extra training outside my normal work hours; and for that, having the offer has been a lifesaver.

‘My son has some delays with his gross motor skills and sitting and standing can be tiring for him. When he gets closer to starting school I would like to build up the time he spends at nursery so he can get used to it. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do that without the free hours.’

RACHAEL NOLAN, MUSIC TEACHER AND SEN SUPPORT WORKER, LONDON

Her three-and-a-half-year-old son attends Sticky Fingers Day Nursery in Hanwell

‘If you’re a limited company or work for a company, the offer is great, but if you’re self-employed, it’s a joke. The Government seems to hold you to a higher standard than anyone else. We are a low-income family in high-cost rented accommodation in London, and we are people this offer is not designed to help.

‘I went back to work to get the 30 hours and I have a child who is eligible, but we’re not claiming it. Technically we qualify, but as my husband and I are both self-employed, the paperwork is so extreme we just can’t do it. My income fluctuates massively and I only work in term time.

‘The council said we couldn’t get it until they saw my husband’s payslips. He is self-employed. They want a huge amount of personal financial information and we aren’t comfortable providing that. They already have our tax returns.

‘The Government adverts said we had to be working at least 16 hours a week to qualify. I was only working six hours. But what they actually meant was you had to be earning the equivalent of 16 hours of minimum wage a week. Even saying it is confusing. I was eligible because my pay per hour was high, but had no idea I was. So I could have applied earlier, and if we had then been successful I could have looked to find more work.

‘But our son starts school in September, so it almost feels like there’s no point now anyway. We just can’t do the paperwork to the degree they need.

‘I was the chair of a big local parents’ group for a while and one of the parents was one day late filing her paperwork, received no reminders and then had to wait weeks before she could qualify again. It gets brought up all the time on the school run; someone has missed the deadline or needs to find more paperwork or something. No-one really knows what’s going on.

‘You can’t get hold of anyone to actually speak to, which is ridiculous. The owners of our Outstanding-rated nursery were tearing their hair out when, just a couple of months before the 30 hours launch, no-one from the council had spoken to them. Parents were ringing up unsure about how it was going to work and the owners didn’t know how to answer. This is a nursery that has been going for 27 years; it is fantastic and the owners really know their stuff. They wrote to our local MP, and so did I, and our MP spoke to the council, which finally set up a workshop to give advice.

‘It’s difficult and I understand the Government is trying to help, but this doesn’t at all. A lot of men and women in Government will clearly never have to take up this offer, or they would have made it much easier for people to use.’

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