30 hour childcare scheme leading to parent fee increases

child playing

A year after the government launched the 30 hours free childcare offer, we join forces with the Pre-school Learning Alliance to take a look at how well the scheme is working for parents and childcare providers

Our survey of 1,143 Mumsnet users who are parents of three- and four-year-olds highlighted several key flaws in the system, affecting a significant proportion of parents using the offer:

  • Just under half (45%) of parents accessing 30 hours places have been asked to pay additional fees for non-funded hours since taking up the offer
  • Four in 10 (41%) have been asked to pay for new or additional charges for goods and services
  • Three in 10 (30%) have had difficulties renewing their 30-hour eligibility online
By the time our second daughter was eligible, instead of the 30 hours they began to operate a different charging system. We were only able to afford to send her for 15 hours per week; 4.5 hours were free and the remaining 10.5 hours charged at the hourly rate. I'm still paying off my credit card a year later.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance survey, based on responses from 1,662 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, also drew out areas for improvement from childcare providers’ perspective:

  • Four in 10 (42%) childcare providers say there’s a chance they will have to close their setting in the next academic year due to the 30 hours and/or underfunding.
  • Eight in 10 (80%) say that it would have a somewhat or significantly negative effect on them if their funding rate stays the same next year.
  • Around half (48%) of providers have increased parent fees as a result of offering 30 hours, while four in 10 (42%) have introduced or increased charges for additional goods and services.
  • A third (34%) plan to increase fees for non-funded hours over the next 12 months, and one in five (19%) plan to introduce additional charges.

Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts said:

“The idea behind giving working parents 30 free hours of childcare is, in theory, a good one. Even part-time childcare can be higher than the average UK mortgage bill, and Mumsnet users tell us it's often a real barrier when it comes to getting back to work. But any scheme needs to be backed up by sufficient planning and funding and our users are telling us this simply isn't happening.

“Given the benefits working parents bring to the economy, it's not good enough that nearly half of recipients are having to pay additional fees for non-funded hours.”

Commenting on the survey results, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said:

“We have long warned that without significant increases in funding, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders offering the 30 hours would be at risk of closure – and here we are, one year into a scheme that government insists is going smoothly, with four in 10 providers saying they may not survive the next year.

“There’s no doubt that the 30 hours scheme has been popular with parents, but at a time when providers are struggling to keep their doors open, this simply cannot be the sole measure of its success. The fact is that even those providers who are technically managing to make the 30 hours work are often only able to do so by introducing or increasing additional fees and charges. Is this what the government meant when they promised parents 30 hours of ‘free childcare’? And while better-off parents may be able to shoulder these unexpected costs in the short-term, those on the lower end of the income scale – the families that the government claims to be so committed to supporting – are the ones who are likely to suffer as a result.

“Worse still, things are only going to get more difficult, with early years funding levels frozen until 2020 despite the fact that provider business costs like wages, mortgages and rents will inevitably rise over this time. How many increasingly expensive ‘additional costs’ will providers be forced to introduce, how many providers will be forced to close their doors, before government admits there’s a problem? The inescapable fact is that, as these figures show, without urgent action, the 30 hours policy is simply not viable in the long term."

You can read the full Mumsnet survey and see more information about the Alliance's survey.

September 2018