HMRC has been issuing parents with eligibility codes for 1 September for children who are not yet three.
Nurseries have told Nursery World that they have been left to explain to parents who have registered with them why their child is not yet eligible for the 30-hour entitlement. As with the universal 15 hours, children are only able to use their 30 hours from the start of the term following their third birthday.
In addition, the 30 hours is only available to working parents who have met the criteria and have given the eligibility code to their childcare provider.
Steve Taylor, (pictured), who runs Winchcombe Farm Day Nursery in Warwickshire, has experienced this problem.
Mr Taylor told Nursery World, ‘It opens up a huge can of worms about who’s liable, if parents are given funding for the 30 hours and they’re not yet eligible. We have had one parent who genuinely thought she was eligible because she had received the eligibility code from HMRC and her child is three in September. She didn’t realise she had to wait until a term after. She was so embarrassed. She genuinely didn’t understand. I think communication with parents is very poor. It’s all a mess. The Government are giving out the codes but it’s left to providers to sort everything out. The whole thing is such a shambles and it’s putting a whole lot of pressure on the sector.’
In Nottinghamshire, the council has taken steps to issue advice to providers on how to deal with the situation (see box).
Jude Burgess, strategic early years manager at Nottinghamshire County Council, said, ‘The advice we sent to providers was in response to a number of parents who were presenting them with eligibility codes, generated by the online system, despite their child being not yet old enough for their early years entitlement.
‘We simply reminded them to check not only the eligibility code but also the eligible age of the child for the additional hours. We also raised the issue with DfE [the Department for Education], who flagged the issues with HMRC.’
‘UNFAIR ON PARENTS’
Charlotte Harris, manager of The Old Co Operative Day Nursery in Gotham, Nottinghamshire, said she was ‘shocked’ to discover that Nottinghamshire County Council had written to providers warning them that even though parents have been issued with an eligibility code, they may not be entitled to the 30 hours.
She said, ‘I have several two-year-old children who have registered with our setting for September. The parents have given us the authorisation codes that the Government has given them.’
‘This is unfair on these families and yet again will have an impact on early years settings.
‘I think it’s unfair that parents have been told they’re getting it and have then had it removed. [Parents of] children who have settling-in visits, and pack-away settings that are closed for the summer, will be in the dark until September. Both carers and early years settings have already budgeted on this – given that they have been given authorisation codes.’
A DfE spokesperson said, ‘We understand that parents are keen to take advantage of the 30 hours free childcare scheme as it can save working parents around £5,000 per child; however, the offer applies only to three- and four-year-olds. The childcare service generates a 30 hours code for parents, before the child turns three, to allow time for parents to secure their childcare arrangements. Providers should ensure that a child only takes up their 30 hours place the term after the child turns three.’
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’S ADVICE TO PROVIDERS
Published on the council’s online portal under the heading ‘Important information regarding accepting 30 hours codes and confirming start dates of funded places’, the advice states:
‘It has come to our attention that children in the two-year-old date of birth range are being issued with 30 hours eligibility codes by the gov.uk website. Please note that despite receiving an eligible code with an “eligibility date” apparently from 1 September, parents and children are not entitled to either the 15 or 30 hours funding until they are in the relevant three- or four-year-old date of birth range for a term. The word “eligibility” in this instance refers to the “eligibility” of the code, not the “entitlement” to a place.’
It goes on to advise that, ‘The DfE operational guidance states: In contrast to the universal entitlement (which only has an age criterion), parents also need to meet a set of eligibility requirements (i.e. income requirements). A parent can only take up 30 hours once both of these conditions are met: a child starts the term following their third birthday and the term following receipt of their eligibility code from HMRC, whichever is later.
‘Like the universal 15 hours entitlement, parents cannot claim 30 hours free childcare once their child has reached compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday). Please note the latest a parent could receive a 30 hours code is 22 weeks after the child turns five. It is therefore important that providers check the age of the child as well as the code. Parents cannot claim their 30 hours in addition to a full-time Reception place in a state-funded school. We recommend that providers do not sign an agreement with parents until they have verified both the age of the child and the validity of the code.’
It states that the eligible date of birth ranges for the autumn term are four-year-olds: 01/09/2012 to 31/08/2013, and three-year-olds: 01/09/2013 to 31/08/2014, adding, ‘Be very careful when you accept an eligibility code from the parents that the child falls into either the three- or four-year-old date of birth range for the relevant term.’