- Early years settings report parents questioning charges for extras
- Parents want what the Government advertised, i.e. 30 ‘free’ hours
Nurseries and childminders claim parents whose children have just become, or are due to become, eligible for the 30 hours are now more likely to say they want the advertised ‘free’ hours.
The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said it had heard reports by some nurseries in more deprived areas that some parents can’t or won’t pay for meals, and are refusing to send children with packed lunches as an alternative. Local authorities have told the nurseries that they cannot withhold care.
In some instances, parents are choosing to move their children to other settings if it means not having to pay for extras.
Jo Morris-Golds, owner of Playsteps Day Nursery in Swindon and a spokesperson for Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding (CNLF), said this is a shift from the pilot year when parents eligible for the 30 hours ‘felt like they had won the Lottery’.
She explained, ‘As we go into the second year of full roll-out, CNLF is hearing from providers that more parents are refusing to pay [for extras] as they say it is free. We are coming out of the honeymoon period.
‘For our nursery, the vast majority of parents are happy to pay, but we are getting some parents who are dictating when they want their funded hours, which goes against our model of delivery. We can only be flexible to a point.
‘I don’t blame parents at all, as the offer has been advertised as being free nationally and locally.’
She added, ‘This has acted as a reminder that educating parents about the 30 hours is an ongoing process. I didn’t realise how much work it would be.’
Childminder Andrea North, who runs Andrea’s Little Acorns in Derbyshire, told Nursery World, ‘Parents are increasingly finding loopholes so they can take up their 30 hours place without having to pay anything. As a result, I lost one child to a nursery in July and am set to lose another in December – both of them have been with me since they were babies.’
Ms North has now decided to stop offering any funded places. Another Derbyshire childminder, Marie Norris, said one of her parents, who as of next month will be splitting the 30 hours between her and a nursery, has refused to pay the £12 retainer that is charged to keep a place open and will provide a packed lunch to avoid paying for a meal.
As a result, Ms Norris said she is set to lose hundreds of pounds. The parent has told Ms Norris that if her child settles well at nursery, a setting which doesn’t charge additional costs, she will move her there full-time.
However, Ms Norris said she has had other parents who have been happy to pay.
Claire Potter, owner of Primrose Hill Day Nursery in Stamford Bridge, East Riding of Yorkshire, has also experienced discontent from parents.
She explained, ‘For parents taking up the 30 hours and opting to pay for consumables, I charge £10 for a full day (10 hours) and £5 for a half day (five hours).
‘On the whole, this hasn’t been a major problem. However, in the last couple of months I’ve had enquiries from parents asking why they should pay the consumables charge if their child is absent due to taking holidays during the term. This is despite making this policy clear from the outset in contracts and discussing this with parents during meetings.
‘I was taken aback by this as parents had previously paid for any absences without question as per our terms and conditions before receiving Government funding. I now make the point even clearer in contracts to parents that consumables are chargeable during the day if a child is absent.
‘I realise that this is no way parents’ fault, but the fault of the Government for saying the 30 hours are free.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said parents must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up the free entitlements and must be offered alternative options to paying fees. Where parents purchase additional hours of provision, consumables or activities, it is a private matter between them and the provider.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance and NDNA said providers are in a difficult position.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘It’s no surprise that parents are confused about what exactly the Government means by “free” childcare – especially when ministers themselves seem uncertain. The simple fact is that, as long as early years funding falls short of delivery costs, and providers are forced to bridge the ever-widening funding gap through additional fees and charges, “free childcare” is never going to be anything but an empty political promise.
‘The most frustrating thing is the Government knows this all too well – why else did it amend its guidance on the 30 hours to say that parents should “expect” to pay for meals and other extras?
‘It’s not right that providers should bear the brunt of parent anger towards an ill-thought-out and underfunded Government policy. If ministers want the 30 hours to be truly free, they need to address the core problem of underfunding by both immediately increasing funding rates and committing to reviewing them annually.’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said, ‘Our recent research shows charging parents for extras is now commonplace, with only a quarter of nurseries not charging for meals and extras.
‘This is largely because the whole scheme is underfunded – delivery costs have gone up while funding has stagnated. This year, 87 per cent of nurseries say funding doesn’t cover their costs.
‘While we haven’t been aware of nurseries experiencing widespread problems with asking parents to pay for meals and extras, nurseries have been put in a very difficult position by Government. Most providers can only make this work by charging parents for meals and extras.
‘Ministers must acknowledge that there is a problem and either increase funding so parental charges are no longer crucial or allow nurseries to make mandatory charges.
‘Either way, the Government must stop marketing 30 hours as “free” – they are not free for either the parents or nurseries and never have been.’