The Government’s 30-hour childcare offer for three and four year olds is not completely flexible or free for all parents with 48% reporting restrictions on when they can use the hours and 56% saying that they have had to pay charges for additional items or activities, according to an independent evaluation.
The evaluation report says a high proportion of providers delivering the funded entitlement are willing and able to offer the extended hours, although the financial impact was mixed. Some 39% of providers who took part in the evaluation reported that there had been a reduction in their profit or surplus due to the extended hours.
A quarter of providers either moved from making a profit to breaking even, or from breakeven or profit into making a loss as a result of offering the extended hours.
Almost all registered parents had obtained an extended hours place, with very few not taking up the extended hours because they could not use them in the way they wanted or because they could not find a provider offering the hours. However, the report said better information about the offer and how to access it locally could make it easier for the unknown number of eligible parents who have not applied to access it.
It also found that, although high proportions of parents – especially lower-income families – using the extended hours reported that they believed that the policy is supporting them to work and having positive impacts on their family finances and quality of family life, cuts to some local childcare teams could mean there are insufficient resources in some areas to adequately support policy implementation in the future.
Moreover, the report said some providers were waiting to see if delivering the extended hours will be financially viable in the long term.
Local authorities who took part in the evaluation argued that many providers “can only be financially viable if they adapt their business models to offer the extended hours, for example, through additional charges for extras and parent paid hours”; that they “expected the pressure to develop these delivery models to become greater because the funding rate is planned to remain unchanged, while costs will increase”, and that they believed “that the word ‘free’ should be dropped from the policy”.