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15 free hours of childcare or not?

25 replies

livvybugs · 17/11/2012 08:04

I am wondering if anyone can shed any light on this subject.

DD1 attends a private day nursery for 3 mornings a week equating to 15 hours per week.

DD1 qualifies for the "15 hours free term time childcare" in January. However I have just opened a letter from the nursery advising that the "15 free hours" are not free and the government only puts £4.50 toward the hourly rate. So we need to make up the difference to their half day rate of £23.77. So it's not exactly free more like discounted?

Is this a common occurrence to request a top up fee from parents and can they do this?

Many thanks for your help on shedding any light on this confusing matter.

OP posts:
BoysBoysBoysAndMe · 17/11/2012 08:12

As far as I'm aware it's 15 hours free.

However, as the free childcare is term time only, the nursery may mean that there would still be funds to pay per year.

So this may equate to a monthly or weekly discount over 12 months iyswim. So the 15 free hours a week, term time (36 weeks I think), are discounted over the full year(52 weeks)

.

vodkaanddietirnbru · 17/11/2012 08:34

if he is only there in term time then it should all be totally free and they are not allowed to ask for top up fees. If he is there outwith term times then they will charge you for the extras and spread it out weekly/monthly.

trudat · 17/11/2012 09:16

The 15 hours are specific hours or sessions during the day. So, for eg a morning session is 9.30 - 11am. If you put dc in from 8 - 12 then you have to pay the wraparound hours of 8 - 9.30 & 11 -12.

It's not 15 hours of your choosing but usually 5 sessions of up to 3 hours. In private nurseries it's often much less than 3 hours because the funding doesn't cover their costs.

Took me ages to work it out. Also, you'll probably find they are oversubscribed for some sessions esp morning ones which means you might not be able to claim all 15 hours anyway.

trudat · 17/11/2012 09:18

And, as vodka says, the hours aren't funded 52 weeks of the year, only in term time. So if dc is in all year round you will have to pay during school hols.

trudat · 17/11/2012 09:19

X post

insancerre · 17/11/2012 09:24

ASk the nursery if you can send him in for just the free sessions, 5 mornings a week for 3 hours. This would be termtime only and there is no guarantee they will have the space.
In theory you are supposed to be able to access just the free funding but in practice most nurseries lose money on the scheme and have to swallow the cost.
It's still worth asking though.

livvybugs · 17/11/2012 13:13

I was planning on sending DD1 every week term time or not as I think that she would benefit, I get that I would have to pay to send her during the non term time, ie school hols, but I thought the 15 hours a week term time were meant to be free, not us having to top them up.

OP posts:
insancerre · 17/11/2012 13:25

yes there are supposed to be free

pingulingo · 17/11/2012 13:27

You are correct and if your DC is accessing only the free entitlement hours and your nursery is still trying to charge you then I suggest you send a copy of the letter to your local authority. They will have a funding team who administer the grant and ensure that providers are not charging top up fees for the free hours.

Your LA should be especially interested if your nursery is using the phrase "top up" as they are explicitly banned from charging top up fees in the conditions of the grant.

If however your DC is accessing more hours than the free entitlement, eg half term weeks then the nursery can charge what they like and you will find that you will probably pay more than you would calculate from just deducting the free hours from your invoice.

SamSmalaidh · 17/11/2012 13:30

They are supposed to be free and they can't ask for a top-up on the hourly rate.

However, they could decided that the free hours are 9am-12pm Monday-Friday, so if you use 8am-1pm Monday-Wednesday then they can ask you to pay for 8am-9am and 12pm-1pm.

What they cannot do though is say 9am-12pm is free but you have to stay for a whole morning session of 8am-1pm and pay the extra. If they are offering 15 free hours then they must allow you to come for just those 15 hours - they can dictate which hours you come to though.

Mandy21 · 17/11/2012 21:57

This is quite a common theme in that everyone says they're supposed to be free (and I agree that they are) but many nurseries (in my experience) charge top up fees. They simply can't afford not to. I know you can report them, they potentially could get in trouble but I think areas are very different in the way they handle it (I'm guessing in my LEA where I think nurseries are very expensive that the LEA knows nurseries are asking for top up fees).

My DD was entitled to the 15 free hours as from September this year. She attends 3 full days so is entitled to the full amount. The nursery continues to charge the full rate, then simply passes on all of the funding they get from the LEA by cheque 3 times a year (i.e. each term) when they receive it from the LEA.

Littlefish · 17/11/2012 22:07

If Nurseries are not prepared to abide by the conditions of the 15 hours funding, then they should not be offering it.

The point of the 15 hours funding is to ensure that nursery education is available to all children, regardless of the income of the parents.

vodkaanddietirnbru · 17/11/2012 22:11

I think it gets more complicated if you are also using them outwith term time as then other fees come into play. Why not just send for the 15 hours - does she need to go during the school holidays?

BackforGood · 17/11/2012 22:13

They absolutely have to be free, and the Nursery is not allowed to ask parents to "top up".
Obviously if you were having extra hours, then you would be charged for them, but they are not allowed to ask you to pay extra. Check it out with your local Family Information Service.

unlucky67 · 17/11/2012 22:46

I'm in Scotland so might be a bit different but our funding is for five 2.5hr sessions per week and during term time only.
There must be a break between the sessions - therefore if a child was in for 5 hours one morning that couldn't be counted as 2 sessions ....but a full day could use 2 sessions (a morning and afternoon session)...so in your case three mornings a week would be for 3 sessions funding...
This is paid per term and amount varies on term length - 5 sessions per week is approx £1500 per year -so for 3 session £900 per year...
As Mandy21 says probably the fairest and most easily understood way for a private nursery setting is to charge full fees and then give you a cheque for the funding as they receive from the council.
You can contact the council and ask about your funding...the nursery should have the contact details....

Littlefish · 18/11/2012 19:04

The system Mandy is suggesting is absolutely against the regulations for nurseries receiving local authority funding for the 15 hours provision and should be reported to the Local Authority.

It makes me so cross that this is still happening.

Mandy21 · 18/11/2012 20:11

Sorry Littlefish, I wasn't suggesting it, I was just saying that is my experience in real life.

Littlefish · 18/11/2012 21:14

I wasn't getting at you Mandy. - sorry if it sounded that way.

Tanith · 19/11/2012 09:56

The free sessions must be absolutely free. Very Angry to see that nurseries are still acting illegally.

You must not be charged a top up fee.

You must not be charged "loaded" hours for additional hours, i.e. the cost of the free entitlement passed onto any extra hours you take: that's discrimination.

They absolutely must not charge you, then refund you the grant: that prevents parents who can't afford the fees from using the nursery.

I speak as a childminder who struggles to ensure parents receive their free entitlement, even though it's less than my fees.
I hate to hear of nurseries deliberately defrauding parents of their free entitlement: I've yet to hear of one that honestly admits all this to parents before they've signed up. Angry

unlucky67 · 19/11/2012 16:53

I know I'm in Scotland and it is probably different - our funding is based on 'educational sessions' -so it isn't 'childcare' as such and to be able to get the funding providers (nurseries etc) have to have staff trained to a certain level who provide personal learning plans for the children, follow the Curriculum for Excellence, inspected by a kind of equivalent to OFSTED as well as care commission etc etc ( I sort out the funding for a playgroup -which is a lot different because we are only open for the 2.5 hrs per day and during term time - once our children are eligible for funding it is very straightforward) A lot of childminders don't do funded places - because it is too much hassle for them...
But I know how our local private Nursery works - (we sometimes have parents with shared funding)...they do the charge full fees and refund the funding in total once they have received it - and in this case the parent's have been paying the fees anyway...In the contract we sign with the council it says that the funding must either be deducted from the fees OR reimbursed -so they are not doing anything wrong.
If they didn't get the funding the parents who needed full time childcare would still have to send their child anyway and would miss out on the free sessions others can get -and that wouldn't be fair either.

Tanith · 20/11/2012 21:32

It must indeed be different in Scotland.
The providers here have to sign up to an agreement that clearly details their obligations and spells out how they may and may not pass the free entitlement on to parents.
It states that the entitlement must be free at the point of delivery, i.e. may not be charged and then refunded. The reason for it is to prevent parents who are unable to afford to pay upfront from missing out on their entitlement.

The reason this is unfair, and fraudulent, is that parents are not made aware in advance that a top-up, or a refund, or whatever is used at the nursery.
The parents might well have chosen a different provider that does follow the rules, had they known. They don't have the chance to make a fully informed decision. Instead, they are presented with an unexpected bill that they may not have budgeted for.

livvybugs · 26/11/2012 21:12

Hi Thank you to all of you for your help and responses. I did some digging and the LA absolutely stipulate that the 15 hours must be free, and it should be calculated by the number of hours a child attends, less the 15 hours entitlement. The chap at the LA also asked to see a copy of my invoice to make sure the nursery are complying. Tonight we had a parents evening, my DH and I broached the subject with the Nursery manager where she admitted they show one invoice to the LA when they are audited, so it looks like they are complying, and we as parents get another with the top up fees! Fraud springs to mind!

OP posts:
Littlefish · 26/11/2012 23:30

Absolutely fraudulent. I hope that you will feel able to whistleblow to the council on this matter.

livvybugs · 27/11/2012 20:10

Absolutely!

OP posts:
StarlightMcKenzie · 27/11/2012 20:17

Where I live all the nurseries (high demand for places) say the 15 hours can only be used from 9-12 but that they only have full day 8-6 placements available.

So if you did 2 full days you'd only get 6 hours. Plus they up front told me that they had to put up their hourly fees outside of the free hours to cover them.

Nursery staff get paid crap wages but I've never seen a nursery manager/owner in anything but a brand new car.

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