Nurseries and childminders have stated that parents are questioning charges for extras and are now more likely to say they want the advertised 30 ‘free’ hours.

According to the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), there have been reports that some settings in deprived areas have experienced parents who can’t or won’t pay for meals, and who are refusing to send their children in with a packed lunch.

In some cases, parents have moved their children from one setting to another if it means not having to pay for extras.

Spokesperson for the Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding campaign group and manager of Playsteps Day Nursery in Swindon, Jo Morris-Golds, said: 

“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.

“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.”

The 30-hour childcare scheme for working parents of 3- and 4-year-olds was rolled out in September last year. Under the previous 15-hour scheme, nurseries could make up the shortfall in funded hours by charging parents more for additional hours.

Andrea North, a childminder based in Derbyshire, said:  “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.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the 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.”

Parents must not be required to pay additional fees as a condition of taking up the 30 funded hours, a Department for Education spokesperson said. Where parents purchase additional hours of childcare or pay for extras such as consumables or other activities, it is a private matter between them and the childcare provider.

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