15 "free" hours of childcare

(145 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.

OddBoots Sun 24-Mar-13 13:29:47

Very well written Tanith.

Viviennemary Sun 24-Mar-13 13:54:15

If you aren't happy why don't you send him to a nursery where the 15 hours would be free as I assume there would be such a nursery. If somebody uses an expensive nursery you couldn't expect the councils to pay top rates. The system seems fair to me. All the nursery would have to do is to refuse to take vouchers at all and that wouldn't really benefit the children. I just don't get your complaint I'm afraid.

MrsHeggulePoirot Sun 24-Mar-13 15:27:54

I think you are seriously mistaken if you think that providing free childcare for all children aged 0-4 is going to pay for itself. There simply aren't the jobs out there for people. Most people aren't working because there are no jobs not because they can't access 15 hours of eduction.

The associated costs of providing this childcare and the checks and paperwork etc will be expensive and I cannot possibly see how it would be cheaper for the govt?!?

Mandy21 Sun 24-Mar-13 18:24:21

I have to agree with MrsHeggule that your belief that free childcare would be self funding is ridiculous. As I said above, I now have one child in nursery and its about £10,000 to round up figures - thats just for a 3 day place. I don't pay that in tax on a 3 day week salary.

I also have twins who are now at school but went to nursery previously. Their fees weren't double, I got some discount for having 2, but on the basis that my tax doesn't even pay for one child's nursery place, it certainly wouldn't have covered two!

TiredFeet Sun 24-Mar-13 18:36:19

thank you Tanith.

I see so many wonderful, professional, caring childcare workers. I think the work and investment you put in should be better appreciated!

as I said upthread, I am more than happy to pay enough to ensure really good childcare for my child, even if it means sacrificing other things to pay for it. (I realise I am lucky to have that choice obviously)

IsItMeOr Sun 24-Mar-13 19:20:16

jdey I'm still confused about how your nursery can apparently get away with the charging structure you describe.

My nursery does nothing like that. The standard rate reduces when DC reach age 3, as they have a lower staff ratio for the older age group. Then when the entitlement to the free education kicked in, the charge fell again.

I'm struggling to follow what precisely your nursery is doing, but it does sound as if it could be unfair.

Bottom line though, is that you just need to decide whether you are happy with the care and education that your DC receive there, and move elsewhere if not.

Even in Sweden, childcare is not totally free - although I think it's capped at 3% of your earnings. According to a recent BBC article I read, I think they spend more on pre-school provision than they do on defence.

HSMMaCM Sun 24-Mar-13 20:48:29

I jumped through 1,000 hoops to get accredited to provide the funded 15 hrs education. The LA then decided that the hourly rate I should accept for these 15 hrs per week is approx £1.50 / hr less than my normal hourly charge. I do it to support my existing children with continuity of care, but I do question how long I can afford to lose this money, while completing more and more paperwork as a result of providing the spaces. I cannot increase my ratios once children are 3, because I am simply allowed 3 children under the age of 5 (1 of them can be under 1). Most nurseries ratios jump up to 1:8 once the children turn 3.

nurserychain Fri 30-Aug-13 18:33:06

I know that this thread is quite old, but it is still very relevant and reading it and what @jdey1969 did to the poor nursery her child attends/attended? made my blood boil.

As Tanith so eloquently put it; nursery costs may have gone up but it certainly hasn't been to line the coffers of the people running them.

As the operations manager for a small chain, I can assure you that despite nursery assistants being paid little compared to other sectors, we pay over the odds to make sure we get good staff since if you pay the minimum you're likely to get those who couldn't give a toss.

Perhaps @jdey1969 has been living on mars to not notice that rents have increased hugely over the past decade. Do you think that nurseries don't pay rent? Imagine how much space a nursery has to have for your little angel to run around and jump and play. Now imagine how much each square foot of that costs, especially if it's anywhere near civilisation.

Add to this that nurseries cannot charge VAT. Guess what this means? We can't claim back VAT either. So every single thing we have to buy, we pay the VAT and can't claim it unlike almost every single other business. And believe me, every time your little angel stamps on a toy, or tears up a book, that's another thing we have to pay for and with dozens of little angels, WE BUY A LOT OF THINGS!

Maintenance? Don't get me started on the costs of maintenance. With children, things just seem to get broken all the time, be it floors, walls, toilets. The tooth fairy unfortunately doesn't fix this and the free 15 hours certainly doesn't cover this.

There is no such thing as 2 tier pricing. The fact is that parents of children who pay fees cover the cost of providing care and parents of children who only come for 15 hours don't. The nursery has to swallow the loss, which is inevitably why free entitlement places are so hard to come by. Most nurseries will provide a few because they feel that morally they ought to and it looks better on them. But, for every child doing 15 free hours, that is one less child who can come for those same hours and actually pay what it costs to provide the care.

Staff: they may not be paid much, but we sure need a lot of them. Not only do we need one staff member for every 3 babies, 4 toddlers and 8(most private nurseries do 6) preschoolers, what about the staff to cover breaks? What about the cooks? What about the cleaners? What about the accountant and the maintenance man? Oh yes, I forgot, we pay them in bananas. Oh and thank you Ofsted for your open door policy, that means another staff member to ensure correct ratio when children are running in and out the building to the garden.

Of course every nursery will make some profit, but you've got to be kidding if you think it's enough to retire on. It's a business, businesses need to make profit or there's absolutely no point in having one. In an ideal world the government would subsidise childcare further as they do in France, and provide more establishments for the free 15hours only, but it's not an ideal world in more ways than just getting your absolutely free 15 hours.

So before you go reporting your nursery to the council and giving them excruciating amounts of grief, maybe you could use your brain and consider that most, maybe not all, but most nurseries owners aren't golem treasuring their precious fees, but actually hard working groups of people trying to provide an excellent standard of care for the least cost possible. And if you're that concerned about anyone making any money, be sure to forgo that holiday you've got booked and give the money to charity instead.

surfandturf Sat 31-Aug-13 19:05:49

Hi all, sorry I haven't read the full thread but I too am a childminder who has jumped through hoops to become accredited so that I too can offer funded places. I chose to do this so that I could help reduce parents expensive childcare costs for the children who are settled and progressing well in my care. I have worked really hard over the past year to get my nvq3 level 3 qualification which I was told I needed in order to become accredited only to receive a letter this morning from my local authority saying that all childminders with a good or outstanding ofsted report can now offer the funding - a year of my own precious time which could have been spent with my own children - wasted!

Having filled out the first funding forms just last week it would seem that the local authority in my area 'advertise' 15 hours of free funding. However this is capped at x no. Of hours per term. Having calculated the no. Of weeks in the term, the max no. Of hours I will recieve payment for actually works out at 12 hours per week! I wholeheartedly agree that if the government offer 15 hours funded then this is what it should be. I do not think it is fair that I should have to provide 3 hours of childcare per week (for 17 weeks this term) for no pay. This could be the same scenario for nurseries and the councils / govt are at fault not the childcare providers.

Gummie Thu 17-Oct-13 17:36:42

What is the story the of this free 15 hours then? My child is 3 and the private nursery he attends tells me each hour is £3.85 from the council and this doesnt cover business costs. They said they will give me what I am owed by the council as I am entitled to it but the rest is I suppose is top up. They are up front and said you either get some money back or we dont participate in the scheme and you get nothing. My son is really happy the nursery and I dont want to move him to just get 15 hours where childcare might be compromised as nurseries have to make adjustments and cut costs to cover the 15 hours of free care. Is anyone in same boat?

Mandy21 Thu 17-Oct-13 21:35:48

gummie I can only speak from my experience and that's exactly the position lots of people are in. The funding, for the vast majority of nurseries, doesn't get near to their hourly rate so they simply give the parents the money they get from the local council. I don't think its a workable system.

bangersmashandbeans Thu 17-Oct-13 21:49:36

I went through the whole process the OP went through but with Surrey county council in terms of complaints etc and got no where! The nursery DD was at got round not charging top up fees by only allowing a minimum of a four hour session (which they are allowed to do) and charge £4.12 per hour (the amount the council gives them) for the first three hours and £17.69 (yes you read that right) for the fourth hour. Ridiculous system but there are Pre schools around which only provide three hour sessions and don't charge at all so it's a matter of choice for parents as to where they want their child to be and how many hours they need. Infuriating though.

oliveoctagon Thu 17-Oct-13 21:52:10

We do 15 hours where you can choose any hour combinations you like, with a 4 week rolling menu of food, all meals and nappies provided. It doesnt matter if you were on a million a year free means free here.

insancerre Fri 18-Oct-13 07:45:14

olive, it's not about how much money the parents have, it's about how much money the nursery needs to survive and stay as a viable business and able to pay its overheads, such as staff wages
your nursery sounds unique as most couldn't afford to supply food and nappies on the 15 hours paid by the LEA
though why 3 and 4 year olds need nappies, I don't know

oliveoctagon Fri 18-Oct-13 08:33:06

insancerre - Its not unique all nurseries I know do it. In London most are entirely free. I work in early years, and I know they dont pay. We have had lots of 3 year olds in nappies.

oliveoctagon Fri 18-Oct-13 08:33:41

*outside of London

oliveoctagon Fri 18-Oct-13 08:38:38

Also most managers are on about 7 quid an hour, and the staff on minimum wage so thats cheap for the owners. I am management of a large disadvantaged area nursery and get £7 an hour. My workload is huge mostly social services, sen, speech and language etc.

Spame60 Tue 18-Mar-14 22:19:01

Jdey1969 - u r right 15 hours is 15 hours and your nursery shouldn't be able to charge differential rates. Good luck! And what happened?

marodo2712 Sat 22-Mar-14 12:43:21

@jdey1969,

Did you ever hear back from the DOE?

I'm in the process of trying to get to the bottom of this issue in St Albans, Herts. ALL of the nurseries here give the 15 hours a financial equivalent that they then deduct from the monthly bill, they justify this by claiming that the service they offer includes various specialist teachers, nappies, food, lunchtime supervision etc. (and nurseries here are a premium product that charge huge prices because most people commute to London).

The simple fact is that FEE (Free Early Education) is supposed to be available for 15 hours per week, without obligation to buy extra hours or services. In essence, sending your child to ANY establishment that is part of the FEE scheme, you should be able to get 15 hours free early education per week without receiving a bill. Many nurseries etc don't even have a session structure that allows for 15 hours.

There are many arguments here and elsewhere that the nurseries have to charge extra in order to make a profit, but making acceptance conditional upon paying extra is fraud, and if your business model depends on you being able to defraud a public body then you're in the wrong business.

When a nursery claims from a council (sends in a head count) they are declaring that x number of children are receiving 15 hours FEE, if the nursery is actually making the parents pay extra (or giving the 15 hours a money value and deducting) they are lying to the council - making a fraudulent claim, breaking the law.

I have been in contact with the person in charge of the Children's Services at HertsCC and she seems to be of the opinion that 'such is life'. I have hinted to her that by turning a blind eye she is actually complicit in the fraud, and should the police ever investigate, then she might find herself in some very hot water - personally.

The simple fact is that claiming funding from a council for offering a service which is technically not being provided (if you're not sticking to the rules then you're not offering the service as it was designed to be offered - and contracts to such effect have been signed) is fraud, and fraud is fraud, and on such a large scale this isn't just a few companies making a few elicit quid, this is a country wide crime, and a national scandal.

marodo2712 Sat 22-Mar-14 12:47:09

BTW, I've been considering setting up a website designed specifically to campaign re this issue, perhaps the only way to get councils and the government to open their eyes and ears.

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