Concerns over future of childcare after free 30 hours policy roll-out
- Credit: Archant
It was created in a bid to help parents juggle the tricky balance of childcare costs and work.
And since its introduction in September thousands of eligible working parents have applied for childcare funding, after the Government doubled its universal policy of 15 hours of free childcare a week during term time for three and four-year-olds in England.
In Norfolk, 529 out of the 712 registered childcare providers, including nurseries, childminders and nursery classes, are accepting the non-mandatory funding, which is administered through HMRC and given out by county councils.
And almost 190 new nursery places will be created in the county thanks to a near-£1m government grant.
But there are fears from pre-school and nursery owners, and childminders, that the 30 hours funding policy creates a funding shortfall.
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Laura King, a childminder of 36 years from Lambert Road in Sprowston, Norwich, said: 'I'm not happy about what is happening in the sense of what the Government is doing. It is making it difficult for everybody.
'I have never had to charge extra for food over my 36 years of childminding, but for the first time I have done this.
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'A lot of providers are not going to offer 30 hours if they cannot afford it. Fees will have to be raised.'
Each county gives out different hourly rates from Government money - Norfolk childcare providers receive a base rate of £3.65.
The average cost of childcare is £4 an hour.
Mrs King claims she loses £720 a year for one child receiving 30 hours childcare.
Natalie Sadler, 30, a childminder on Cromwell Road, Sprowston for three years, said: 'The Government needs to relook at the policy.'
The funding does not pay for food, trips and activities.
Norwich childminder of 12 years, Jennie Williams, who accepts the funding, said: 'I consider myself to be a good childminder and I am facing the fact that I may need to close my doors.
'This may be great for working parents but I am a working parent too and this will see the death of childminders.'
In the autumn of 2017, Norfolk County Council paid out £238,000 to childcare providers.
John Banbury, co-owner of Once Upon A Nursery School, which offers funded places at its four Norwich sites, said he introduced a £10 daily food charge to cover the shortfall.
He said: 'The 30 hours free childcare will reduce the parents' bill. It is the best thing for parents.
'Nurseries are not sustainable businesses if they are to survive on what they get from the Government. Funding childcare is a big problem.
'Overall we are making it work. My issue is calling it free childcare - it should be called subsidised.'
Ros Cutts, owner of Mulberry Bush Day Nursery in Mulbarton and Wymondham, said the childcare industry had taken 'a hit' in terms of rising staff costs and business rates.
'The general cost of childcare will keep going up,' she said.
Speaking about the 30 hours free funding, Miss Cutts added: 'Will the places be there if everyone wants them?'
Clare Jones, headteacher of Norwich-based Bignold Primary School and Nursery, said the 30 hours free childcare policy was 'complex' but also 'good' because it allowed parents to work.
A spokesperson for Action for Children, which runs children's centres across Norfolk on behalf of the county council, said: 'The introduction of 30 hours of childcare for working parents is good news for families struggling to pay for childcare and work full-time, particularly given the positive impact this has had on parents in the early roll-out areas.'
A county council spokesman said: 'Our duty is to ensure there are sufficient high quality places.
'Independent providers need to consider whether it is right for their community and viable for their business.
'Our early years team have been working hard to support them with financial planning advice and a comprehensive training programme.'
The Department for Education was approached for a comment but did not respond.
Complex and confusing are just some of words used to describe the application process for 30 hours of free childcare, according to one parent.
Artist Dot Howard, 36, from Eade Road in Norwich, has a three-year-old called Evie who attends Spring Nursery Milestones at Norwich's Norman Centre on Bignold Road.
Speaking about the process of receiving the code for the funding from the HMRC website, Ms Howard said: 'I found the whole thing confusing. I couldn't believe how complex it was. I got there eventually after four or five days. The HMRC required a lot of information.'
An HMRC spokesman said: 'More than 300,000 parents have successfully applied through the childcare service, which allows parents to access 30 hours free childcare and tax-free childcare through one straightforward application. More than 30,000 of these parents are based in the east of England. Parents can access dedicated support by phoning 0300 1234097.'
Who is eligible?
Eligible three and four-year-olds are entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare and early education per week for 38 weeks of the year.
• People do not have to use the full 30 hours each week.
Childcare providers do not have to offer the 30 free hours.
• Parents can claim up to 30 hours between up to three childcare providers.
• People can claim the entitlement from the term after a child's third birthday.
A child will quality if:
• Both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns on average:
• A weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours pay at national minimum wage or national living wage;
• Less than £100,000 per year.
• In the autumn of 2017, 9,195 children in Norfolk aged three and four received funding for 30 hours of childcare a week.
• Visit www.childcarechoices.gov.uk, www.gov.uk/sign-in-childcare-account or call 0300 1234097.