15 "free" hours of childcare

(147 Posts)
jdey1969 Sat 23-Mar-13 07:57:30

My son attends a nursery in Wimbledon. The term after he turned 3 years old, we received a reduced invoice from the nursery. However, I worked out that the reduced amount wasn't enough of a reduction for us to truly be getting 15 free hours. I queried this with the nursery and was told that they only reduce the bill by the amount that they receive from the Council, and not by the normal hourly rate that they charge. This is in effect a top up fee, which is forbidden.

I escalated my complaint to Merton Council who told me that if I persisted with my complaint, the nursery might be forced to close and then I'd have no childcare. I persisted in any case, as I don't like being threatened and complained directly to the Department of Education about Merton colluding with the nursery to find a loophole in the law i.e. by creating a 2-tier fee structure, they can claim they're not charging "top up fees".

Merton Council have now concluded a 3 month investigation. Merton Council have said that as the nursery only publish weekly and monthly fees, my conclusion that the hourly rate was simply the weekly rate/60 was not correct. Merton Council were satisfied that the nursery were refunding the amount that Merton had paid them (using the local funding formula) to me, so I was receiving 15 "free" hours of childcare at that rate. A provider was entitled to charge what they liked above the "free" entitlement.

What this means is that the Council could decide that they'd only provide funding to a nursery of 1p per hour, in which case my 15 "free" hours would be worth 15p per week during term time. What it also means is that parents who put their children in nursery for more than 15 hours are actually subsidising the 15 free hour scheme, by paying a higher rate than normal for those extra hours.

For example, if say your nursery charged £5 per hour for your child when they are 3, and you have your child in nursery for 60 hours per week, your bill would be £300 per week. Now, when the 1st school term starts after they're 3, you'd expect the bill to come down to 45 hours * £5= £225 per week. However, with a 2-tier fee structure, your nursery can say you were mistaken in the belief that you wer being charged an hourly rate of £5 per hour, actually, we've never charged for the 1st 15 hours, but we charge £6.66 per hour for the hours above the 15 hours. Your invoice is still £300 per week.

I am waiting to see what action if anything that the Department of Education will take against Merton Council, but for the time being, the government's commitment to 15 free hours of childcare for 3 and 4 year olds is untrue. Parents could end up no better off than when their child wasn't receiving any "free" hours at all. At best, it could be described as 15 reduced (at your Council's discretion) hours for 3 and 4 year olds.

nannynick Sat 23-Mar-13 18:47:21

So is the main issue now that the billing is not clear and has not been clear in the past either? Plus that by your calculations the cost has increased (£5.05 to £5.56) for the unfunded hours, an increase that you were not told about? Does the contract allow for fee increases without any notice?

Not sure how this will ever get resolved. Maybe by refusing to pay the new increased fee and terminating your child's place at the nursery.

jdey1969 Sat 23-Mar-13 18:56:33

@nannynick. I've read your link again. It's been updated since when I last read it in January. Glad to see it's got the fees that Merton Council are passing on to the nursery in black and white now. Still don't know how much the government is paying Merton Council, however.

If nurseries are allowed to have a 2-tier fee structure and can charge what they like for the unfunded hours, the upshot of this is that working parents are subsidising parents who put their child in to nursery for 15 hours or less, and the more hours they work, the heavier they're subsidising it. A UK higher rate taxpayer, now pays higher tax, doesn't receive child benefit, pays some of the highest childcare costs in the world and subsidises parents who don't work.

OddBoots Sat 23-Mar-13 19:01:01

You said this morning

"They could simply increase their fees across the board, couldn't they. I really don't see the difference between a nursery and any other business."

It sounds like that is what they've done but they can't (however much they want to) get any more from the council so yes, the result is that parents using for more than 15h pay more.

jdey1969 Sat 23-Mar-13 19:01:09

@nannynick. I've not been invoiced whilst the investigation was underway, but from what the other parents told me, the invoices are now clear. The remaining issue is about the 2-tier fee structure.

Not sure how it will be resolved. My son's nursery is clearly not unique in not allowing 15 free hours at the normal provider rate and this has been going on for far too long. It'll be interesting to see what the DofE will say.

jdey1969 Sat 23-Mar-13 19:05:47

@Oddboots. So for working parents, the 15 free hours should read "15 free hours for unemployed mums who want a break from their kids, which you'll be paying for, on top of all the other taxes that are paying for their other benefits".

lljkk Sat 23-Mar-13 19:10:02

This is how DS nursery worked back in 2002 so it seems normal to me.
I've yet to encounter a nursery/preschool that isn't running on a shoestring, so I think that they have to juggle the money like this in order to make ends meet.

OddBoots Sat 23-Mar-13 19:15:17

No, it's actually 570 hours per year of funded education accessed over a minimum of 38 weeks of the year for every child from the term after their 3rd birthday.

Some parents (working, studying, with other caring responsibilities, at home) can and do access it at private nurseries, some at pre-schools, some with childminders and some mix between them.

MrsHeggulePoirot Sat 23-Mar-13 19:20:29

@jdey1969 ". So for working parents, the 15 free hours should read "15 free hours for unemployed mums who want a break from their kids, which you'll be paying for, on top of all the other taxes that are paying for their other benefits"."

You aren't serious are you? I work, my daughter gets her 15 hours of education at a nursery attached to a primary school. This does not save me any money because I still have to pay a full day for my childminder to pick up and drop off as I work. I sent her because I thought it would be something she enjoyed. I didn't do it to get free childcare when I chose to work instead.

I agree that the billing unclearly isn't fair, but I also do not agree that you should just get 15 hours off your bill. If Merton pay £3.70 per hour yen your bill should simply be reduced by 3.70 x 15 x 38 spread across the weeks you use your nursery.

jdey1969 Sat 23-Mar-13 19:26:36

@MrsHeggulePoirot. In your situation, did your childminder hike her fees when you told her that you'd be reducing the number of hours as you would now be sending your daughter to pre-school?

Do you think that the local Council can simply decide how much they'll fund the nurseries for the "free" hours and working parents have to make up the difference? What if the Council decides to fund the "free" hours at 1p per hour? How do you know that the government isn't paying Merton Council £5.05 per hour for my son and Merton are pocketing the difference?

RatPants Sat 23-Mar-13 19:28:41

Same here MrsHeggle my son receives his fifteen free hours (well, 2h 15m per day) at a state nursery attached to a primary school in the afternoons but goes to private nursery in the mornings and this involve a complicated picking up / dropping off system with a childminder and various family members.

BettyandDon Sat 23-Mar-13 19:29:14

The private nurseries closeby us (neighbouring borough) justify their fees by adding extras such as yoga within the 15 hours. The govt funding was covering 1/3rd to 1/2 of the total fee. Astounding figures we couldn't afford it.

Luckily we have a place at a council run facility where we do get 15 hours free. We will do our yoga in the afternoons at home smile.

There is no way there are enough spaces for everyone to get truly 15 hours free, so yes the scheme is quite misleading. Well done for challenging.

If we had not got the place we did I would have kept my DD at home until she started reception.

takeaway2 Sat 23-Mar-13 19:49:25

My DS is in reception year now and my dd is 2.5 years old. When we received the 15 hr free per week, it worked out over 38 weeks of term so for some months we had low bills and other months higher.

We knew a boy who only went 3 afternoons and they didn't pay except during non term time. On our son's time table they'd indicate whether today was 'free' or not. It was quite clear. Each day was divided into 2 5 hour sessions. So for our son who goes full time, his Mondays were free and his Tuesday morning. Then we'd pay for Tuesday afternoon, Wednesdays-Fridays. Quite clear. It's up to us whether we take him in at 8am sharp or not!!! The nursery was open 8-6pm.

Sirzy Sat 23-Mar-13 19:51:07

The 15 hours ISN'T free childcare. It is 15 hours of (optional) EDUCATION for preschool age children.

KeriRussell Sat 23-Mar-13 19:57:06

I know private nurseries round here offer the 15 free hours; in fact it is used as a selling point as at that time there are a lot of people looking at going back to work full time....

OddBoots Sat 23-Mar-13 19:58:44

If you are happy to number crunch you can get more info here by downloading the spreadsheet.

From that I can see that Merton spends 4.8% of its dedicated schools grant (central government funding) on Early Years meaning £2 280 per child of which they pay £2 211 to PVI settings, the remainder being kept centrally by the council. This compares to 5.7% giving £2 539 per child (£2 166 to PVI) for England as a whole.

KeriRussell Sat 23-Mar-13 20:08:55

I'd also like to point out as a former child are development officer that a lot of private nurseries are not run on as much of a shoe string budget as you may think. Often their staff are payed very poorly with the minimum number being in place (years before working my way up the ladder I temped in nurseries and as a temp I earned more than the section manager!). They can charge extortionate rates to parents and a lot also request the parents provide nappies and formula, with the nursery providing food and snacks. Which, to be fair how much do you honestly think a baby or toddle will be given to eat, and from what I have actually witnessed it wasn't a huge amount - and some places only give the child a limited time to eat (20 mins). Not all are like this and I've also worked in some excellent places, but after seeing it decided childminders were my preference for my kids...and trust me I have seen the good bad and ugly with them too!

forevergreek Sat 23-Mar-13 20:11:18

most private nurseries here dont offer it now due to loss in funds. we unfortunately get no reduction for 3 year old

they shouldnt be able to change the rules around though. i think either 15 free hours should be totally free

Floggingmolly Sat 23-Mar-13 20:17:00

But not all nurseries cost the same, do they? confused. The council refund at a standard rate, why should they subsidise your desire to use a more expensive child care establishment? What you've described is the way it's always worked; I'm surprised they spent 3 months investigating your complaint...

MrsHeggulePoirot Sat 23-Mar-13 20:35:51

@jdey1969 I don't think you read my post properly. I was responding to your rather rude comment about it only being for unemployed parents already claiming benefits. I was just explaining to you that I work, don't claim benefits and use the state school nursery provision. Of course if I was unemployed and on benefits this is completely irrelevant to your argument.

My childminder's have not been reduced, as I work I still have to pay her for the full day the same as I did before DD started nursery. I don't agree that it is right if your nursery have changed their hourly rate side you claimed the 15 hours. What I am saying is that you have chosen to send your child to a private nursery. State schools get about £3.50 per pupil per hour. Therefore in my opinion you should get 15 x 3.50 x 38 off your annual nursery bill and your hourly rate (same as all parents there) should be charged as normal.

I know some nurseries in Merton charge £6 per hour. I don't agree that the govt/Merton should pay this amount because your child is at a private nursery. Lots of my friends have children at some of the private nurseries and have some reduction in their fees since their children turned 3. This however does not work out at 15 hours reduction but they at all happy that this is because the funding doesn't match the private nurseries charge.

At the end of the day all that I can see will happen is that private nurseries simply won't offer to participate in the scheme at all.

MrsHeggulePoirot Sat 23-Mar-13 20:37:46

floggingmolly said it much better!

"So for working parents, the 15 free hours should read "15 free hours for unemployed mums who want a break from their kids, which you'll be paying for, on top of all the other taxes that are paying for their other benefits".

I was on your side until you said that.

jdey1969 Sat 23-Mar-13 20:49:59

@MrsHeggulePoirot You can agree or disagree with the current policy that all 3 or 4 year olds are entitled to 15 free hours per week, 38 weeks per year at childminders, pre-schools or private nurseries but that's the policy as it currently stands.

@FloggingMolly. If both parents are working, you don't have much choice on which nursery to send your kids to, it's the one that's most convenient. You make working sound like a lifestyle choice. Again you may disagree with the current policy that 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to 15 free hours per week, 38 weeks per year at ANY childminder, pre-school or private nursery that's willing to participate in the scheme but that's the policy as it currently stands. If I was sending my son to the nursery for 15 hours or less it would be totally free, irrespective of whether the nursery was charging £3.70 per hour, £5.05 per hour or indeed £20 per hour.

The nursery can choose not to participate in the scheme but if they are in the scheme, they should abide by the rules.

forgottoremember Sat 23-Mar-13 20:55:32

Look the rules are simple
THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CHARGE TOP UP FEES
So if a private nursery wants to participate in the 15 free hours scheme, for better or worse THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CHARGE TOP UP FEES FOR THOSE HOURS!
We can argue over whether that's a good thing or a bad thing - but it's still THE LAW.
Which is why jdey has a v valid complaint against her nursery.

I agree-the final result may well be that private nurseries can't any longer participate in the scheme. From central gvt's perspective, I'm absolutely sure that that was the point of the rule. They want to spend as little as they possibly can on this scheme, and they DEFINITELY don't want to subsidise private nurseries' profits.

To put things in perspective, my children attend a nursery in an inner-London borough, where prices for most private nurseries are astronomical, even though staff are paid a pittance. Our nursery can afford to provide fantastic care AND to participate in this scheme - because no profits are made...

forgottoremember Sat 23-Mar-13 20:56:25

...crossed messages...
same point as op...

redwellybluewelly Sat 23-Mar-13 21:04:30

OP this has been fascinating to read and food for thought for DH and I whose DD attends private nursery. The term after she turns 3 she will only be at nursery 2 days (4 sessions) a week as I am on maternity leave. BUT those are the minimum the nursery will allow you. Which is a bit over 15 hours. Which means we won't get 15 hours.

As I said - food for thought...

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