A poll by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that the new childcare offer for two year olds is proving very difficult to access due to a range of issues, including poor information to nurseries, technical issues and lack of places.
Parents are in ‘complete chaos’ trying to access the new 15 hours ‘free’ childcare scheme for two year olds, according to a survey by Pregnant Then Screwed.
Since January 1st, parents have been able to apply for a code to access the new scheme for two year olds, which starts on April 1st. The scheme is the first stage of the two-year roll-out of extended ‘free’ childcare from the Government outlined in last year’s Spring budget.
The survey of over 6,000 parents found just 11% of parents have been able to get a code and 17% said they simply don’t understand how the system works. Some parents complain that they have repeatedly tried to access their code, but the website sends them in an endless loop and then back to the log-in page. Pregnant Then Screwed claims others are being sent on a wild goose chase with incorrect advice from the childcare helpline.
Danielle from Norwich says: “The first time I called, I was on hold for four hours, only to be hung up on. I called the following day and waited another three hours. I can’t express my frustration at the usability of this system – people who work, who have young kids and need childcare don’t have that sort of time.’’
In addition to technical problems, parents are also having problems finding a provider who will offer the ‘free’ childcare. 55% of parents have found a provider who is accepting codes for the new scheme, but over a third of parents (34%) say their provider is currently unable to confirm whether they will accept the codes. Pregnant Then Screwed say this is likely due to providers not having the necessary information about funding from their local authority. It reports that some childcare settings are also removing the government scheme for three and four year olds as well as not enrolling in the new 2-year funding scheme due to continued underfunding from the Government.
Georgina from Northamptonshire says: “On the 2nd Jan, my nursery dropped the bombshell that they “cannot afford to continually take a hit on the deficit between our daily rate and what we are receiving from the Government – even with charging parents a consumable (top up).” so therefore they are opting out of the 15/30 hour government funding from April 2024. This means by May, my monthly outgoing on childcare alone will be close to £2,000 pcm! For context, our mortgage is £1,300 pcm (up from £995 pcm last year). I just do not know how or if we can afford this and it adds insult to injury that there is funding we’re entitled to yet can’t utilise due to not enough provision in the area we live.”
Joeli Brearley, CEO and Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, state:, ‘’We have been inundated with messages from frantic parents who don’t understand the system, or expect to receive their code too late. Meanwhile, many providers haven’t been given the information they need from their local authority to decipher what their income will be from April onwards. Parents can’t access their codes, providers can’t do their financial forecasting – it’s bedlam.”
Many parents are being told they cannot apply for a code until their reconfirmation window opens, but most say it isn’t open yet and many say this won’t happen until late March, just days before the scheme is due to start. A small number say their reconfirmation window opens in April which is after the scheme starts. However, a quarter of parents say their provider has given them a deadline to provide their code; and of those, a half (49%) say the deadline is before their reconfirmation window opens. This is despite the Department for Education making it clear that there should not be any deadlines before the 31st March.
Brearley adds: “Parents struggling to understand the system or trying to secure their code are told to call the childcare services helpline, but parents we have spoken to complain of being on call waiting for very long periods, with many saying the line then cuts out. Our benefit helpline isn’t able to keep up with demand, and we’re being flooded with messages. We’ve become a childcare helpline for the government overnight.”
The Department for Education says it is aware of the technical problems and is trying to fix them.