30 hours funded childcare – the view from the other side

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With the full roll-out of the 30 hours funded childcare offer just weeks away, providers are still trying to work out how to offer it and remain viable, or deciding not to offer it at all. The difficulties this manifesto pledge is causing providers has been well documented and is the subject of the national Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding (CNLF) campaign.

CNLF have long advised that parents are our biggest allies in this. It is parents who, through agreeing to pay additional service charges for all the things that the Government does not intend the funding to cover, will be the difference between survival or closure for some settings.

We are very aware that parents have been promised that these hours are ‘free’ but sadly this just isn’t the case. Parents are finding that settings have had to limit their funded places, or the number of hours that can be taken each day, or, in many cases, that additional services are being charged. However, the vast majority of parent have been extremely supportive and are happy to pay.

One parent, Becks Hudson, says: “It should be simple – Government promises 30 hours free funding, Government pays council money to pass on to nurseries and childminders, early years providers offer free childcare to families. What has actually happened is: Government has no idea how much, per hour, it actually costs to care for a child, it offers far less than it costs, the council then takes a significant cut (without explaining how their cut is spent), the nursery gets passed on what’s left, and generally ends up around £1.50 per hour, per funded child, out of pocket.”

Interestingly, having to pay for something they have been promised for ‘free’ is causing hardly any complaints as parents genuinely do understand our position.

By far the biggest frustration we are hearing of from parents is the difficulty in getting their eligibility codes, the HMRC system has had many technical difficulties and lots of parents still do not have their codes.

The Government estimate that approximately 400,000 children will be eligible for the 30 hours yet, as of 17th July, only 145,000 parents have had their codes. Now, with only 5 weeks to go, parents must get their codes and give them to their providers with a signed declaration. Providers must pass these to the Local Authority who must validate each code and confirm eligibility. It all feels very last minute, especially given that many settings are now closed until September.

There are some parents who have found it easy to get a code, as one told us, “It took about 20 minutes, I had all the information I needed and did it when my child was asleep as I needed to concentrate.”

However, far more have told us that it has not been so straightforward: “I have applied three times, it took weeks to get into system due to technical errors on the website, after phoning I was told due to a glitch in system, they would need to post my code and it would be with me in 10 days. Two months later, three phone calls and still no code.”

Another told us: “I have applied for a code but according to HMRC my child does not exist!” and a third said: “Whilst on the page I got a message saying ‘Your application is being considered, we’ll send you a message when we know the result’” over three weeks later they are still waiting.

Providers have been suggesting that parents call the helpline if they are having difficulties, however, that is not straightforward either, as one parent told us: “Their telephone system is awful too – you have to answer loads of questions from a recorded voice before you can speak to an actual person.

Something I hope to never go through again!”

As an early implementer setting, we did not need these eligibility codes. The Local Authority confirmed that the family were eligible and that was it, no codes, no 3 monthly checks and no families fell out of eligibility so there was no grace period needed.

Sadly, the full roll-out is set to be far more complicated than this. Parents getting their codes is just the first stage and with so many finding this difficult, it doesn’t bode well for September and beyond.

As providers, we do not want this policy to fail, we simply want it to be properly funded and not unduly cumbersome in terms of administration for parents or for us. It’s very frustrating that this roll- out has been rushed through even though all the supporting legislation, guidance and documentation has been extremely slow to emerge.

As Becks Hudson said: “Those in Government take note – working parents need nurseries, you need working parents…. please listen to the experts – the people providing the care- not people sitting behind desks, thinking up badly planned strategies.”

About the author

Jo Morris has been in Early Years for 21 years; she holds the NNEB Diploma and has worked as a nanny and creche manager, working at sporting events across Europe and the Middle East. 

For the past 9 years she has been the manager of a large PVI setting, gaining her Early Years Degree in 2015 and setting up a new company to grow the business. 

Jo is passionate about the sector and about achieving the best possible outcome for every child. 

Supporting practitioners is a key part of this and as such she is the spokesperson for Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding, a campaign group supporting the sector by calling for a change in the legislation around the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare policy.

You can contact Jo at jo@champagnenurseries.com 

 

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2 thoughts on “30 hours funded childcare – the view from the other side

  • August 4, 2017 at 12:52 am
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    This is all true, well said Jo Morris

    Reply
  • August 2, 2017 at 1:31 pm
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    I would suggest government understands full well the issue that payments don’t cover the costs but it is simply naïve to believe in ‘give us some more money’ as a realistic solution. Although the deficit has been closed gradually over the past years, a country which is still spending something like £60bn per year more than it collects in taxes and has one of the highest levels of debt borrowings in the world (c£1.9tr or close to 90% of GDP) is hardly able to be able to lay its hands on whole new rafts of additional resources.

    The real problem as I see it is the hook that the government has got itself on in making a certain number of hours “free”. This started with the 15 hours commitment and dates back to the decisions taken in the last years of the Labour government. There was an aversion to the alternative of top up fees – some were just plain ideologically opposed seeing at a subsidy in part to private sector providers others felt that they would inevitably lead to additional nursery fee inflation. In 2010, the incoming Coalition decided they would not change this and so we were stuck with the “free” system. As a then nursery operator, this meant complicated fee structures had to be devised both to charge more for non-free hours as well as account for the lack of full year funding.

    There are some fundamentals we can all agree on; providing taxpayer funded financial assistance for childcare is a good and necessary condition for a modern economy and the more and greater the financial assistance the better. In this context the additional funds (such as they are) with the 30 hour commitment should be very welcome. What is needed however is a new subsidy operating model, somewhere between the “free” hours (which were never free!) at one extreme or top up fees at the other. I would suggest the setting up of a small task force comprising representatives of providers, top grade relevant civil servants plus current parents to explore this and work up a credible scheme for government to adopt.

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