Parents ‘need to be aware of rights to free childcare’

Parents of three and four year olds need to be more aware of their rights around accessing up to 15 hours free childcare, according to the Daycare Trust.

Parents of three and four year olds need to be more aware of their rights around accessing up to 15 hours free childcare, according to the Daycare Trust.

It releases results of a survey of over 500 parents today which shows a lot of confusion over entitlement to free early education and concerns that some providers are charging top-up fees or demanding upfront fees and only refunding the money at the end of term. This, says the Trust, may put lower paid parents off accessing early education.

The survey comes as the Government has increased the number of free childcare hours for three and four year olds from 12.5 to 15 hours a week and introduced a Code of Practice to govern free entitlement. The Code bans the practice of charging upfront fees.

The survey of parents whose children receive free childcare entitlement shows:

– Many childcare settings have been charging top-up fees, with 23% of parents reporting they had been asked to pay for some of the 12.5 hour ‘free’ entitlement. 

– 7% of parents being charged ‘upfront fees’, with the free entitlement then ‘refunded’ to parents at the end of term

– a lack of transparency, with 12% of parents unsure whether or not they had been charged top-up fees; just 38% of parents receiving a bill with a clear break-down of costs; and no common language amongst childcare providers to communicate about the free entitlement.

– gaps and flaws in the system with 22% of parents not taking up the full free entitlement due to lack of available places, and inflexibility around how the free hours can be used.

The Daycare Trust says parents have been told they have to use them for three five-hour sessions or for five three-hour sessions when they want to use them to get a day and a half’s free childcare while they go to work.

The new Code of Practice is intended to make the system more transparent and includes a duty on local authorities to assess childcare demand in their area and make efforts to ensure there is sufficient childcare available. In addition to banning the practice of charging upfront fees, the Code says providers cannot charge top-up fees. During the election campaign it was mooted that the Conservatives might allow nurseries to charge top-up fees for three to four year olds, but in Government the Tories have pledged to protect and extend free entitlement.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Daycare Trust said: “The findings of this survey echo what Daycare Trust has long said about the problems parents encounter with the free entitlement. It is of great concern that there is so much uncertainty and confusion amongst parents. The survey demonstrates exactly how much need there is for the new Code of Practice. We are pleased to see the code being implemented, and will be keen to see it properly enforced by local authorities and see the impact that this has on parents’ experiences.

“We know from the high take-up rate of the free entitlement that parents really value formal childcare, and the impact it has on their child’s development. However, when parents are asked to pay upfront costs or top-up fees, it is the poorest families, whose children stand to benefit the most from the free entitlement, who are most likely to be deterred from taking it up.

“The free entitlement is a landmark policy, and we warmly welcome its extension to fifteen hours a week. However, to maximise the value of this free entitlement, and support more parents back to work, Daycare Trust would like to see it increased to twenty hours a week, along with more flexible options for take-up.

“We also recognise the challenges that childcare providers face in delivering the free entitlement, and continue to call for increased government support and investment in high quality childcare provision.” Meanwhile, another survey has shown more than one in three parents has considered giving up work because they feel unable to cope with childcare costs.
New research from Computershare Voucher Services (CVS) found that 36 per cent of parents considered staying at home instead.
Simon Moore, Managing Director of CVS, said: “This is an alarming statistic and one which reveals the financial pressure that many new parents feel.
“Many parents clearly consider that it may be more cost effective not to work than to pay for childcare; with reports that childcare costs in the UK are higher than in any other country it’s a position that’s easy to understand. What we do not know is the number of people who decided it was more cost effective not to work than to pay for childcare.
“We believe that more must be done to raise awareness of what is available to help parents. Employers, carers and government all have a role to play in making sure that the return to work for parents, particularly new parents, is made as easy as possible.”

CVS says parents can exchange up to £243 per month of their gross salary for childcare vouchers.

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