Nurseries charging for free childcareNurseries are charging parents for government-funded childcare and reimbursing them at a later date, despite a legal duty to provide care free at the point of delivery, CYP Now has learned.

Currently, all three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free childcare every week, but this is set to increase to 15 hours from September.

Parents have begun to complain that they are being charged for free childcare, and refunded only at the end of the month or term.

The issue is causing such concern that childcare charity the Daycare Trust is planning to conduct national research over the summer months to ascertain the extent of the problem.

Anand Shukla, Daycare Trust’s business director, told CYP Now: “When some parents receive money as a deduction from their fees, it does not always cover the cost of the free entitlement.

“Some parents are unclear if they are even receiving the free entitlement, so we need to ensure all parents are aware of it and take-up is as high as possible.”

Statutory guidance accompanying funding for the free entitlement, A Code of Practice on the Provision of Free Nursery Education Places for Three- and Four-Year-Olds, was published in 2006. It clearly states that “providers should not charge parents fees in advance for the free entitlement to be refunded at a later date”.

The new code of practice to accompany the extension of the free entitlement reiterates that up-front fees are prohibited.

“Parents struggling to pay bills will not be able to pay up-front fees,” said Imran Hussain, Child Poverty Action Group’s head of policy.

“Poorer children will be excluded from accessing the free entitlement, which is likely to compound educational inequalities at a later stage.”

Claire Schofield, director of policy for the National Day Nurseries Association, claimed that most nurseries are following the government’s code of practice, suggesting that some may have alternative agreements with their local authority.

“If any setting is following such a process due to cash-flow issues or late payments, they should raise this with their local authority as a matter of urgency,” she added. “There continue to be many issues with the free entitlement, with under-funding a major one, and it is crucial these are resolved.”

Parenta is currently offering nurseries a chance to ease the administrative burden of free entitlement, by offering a money-back guarantee on our Abacus management software this month!

How is your nursery preparing for the administrative changes involved with free entitlement? Do you think it is right that some nurseries are charging parents early for government-funded childcare and reimbursing them at a later date? Leave your comments below to join the discussion!

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