'Bedlam' For Parents Trying To Access Government's 'Free' Childcare Scheme, Charity Claims

"Why does it often feel as though these schemes are drafted on the back of a fag packet?"
Pregnant Then Screwed has dubbed a government scheme for free childcare "bedlam"
Pregnant Then Screwed has dubbed a government scheme for free childcare "bedlam"
SolStock via Getty Images

A government scheme meant to offer 15 hours of “free” childcare has left parents and providers in chaos, according to a charity.

UK parents have been able to apply for this £4 billion scheme since January 1 – as long as their child is 2 or will turn 2 before April 1 2024 when it starts.

Parents also need to earn between £8,670 and £100,000 a year, for their adjusted net income.

Those already using the tax-free childcare scheme – offering a 10% on fees for those eligible working parents who do not quality for current free hours – they just need access to a code issued by the government. Then, they can receive 15 hours of funded children a week for 38 weeks a year.

Potential providers include nurseries, schools or pre-school, a childminder, a session provider and Sure Start Children’s Centre.

It is part of the government’s promise from last spring to hike up spending in childcare.

But, as the charity Pregnant Then Screwed claimed, parents have already hit several hurdles just in trying to access this scheme – resulting in “bedlam”.

Only 55% of the 6,058 eligible parents the charity spoke to in a flash survey said they had found a childcare provider who would accept the discount code, while 34% said their local provider hasn’t said if they will offer the 15 hours’ free.

According to the charity, “this is likely due to providers not having the necessary information from their local authority,” meaning they cannot work out what their income will be from April onwards.

Underfunding from the government means plenty of providers have also chosen not to enrol in the funding scheme – and are even removing themselves from other schemes aimed at helping three and four-year-olds.

The scheme has reportedly been beset by technical issues, too. Just 11% of respondents said they have been able to get a code – and 17% said do not understand the system in the first place.

Some claim the website is faulty – which the government denies – while others criticised the advice from the government’s childcare services helpline.

A quarter of those surveyed also said their providers had sent them an arbitrary deadline for the code – and that deadline is before they had even received the code in the first place.

Others complained of not being able to reach the government’s helpline at all, and spending hours on hold.

Applicants need to reconfirm they are eligible on their government childcare account every three months.

However, some parents reconfirmed their eligibility before January 2 – meaning they cannot apply for this code until their reconfirmation window opens, which may happen after the scheme starts.

More than two-thirds of respondents told Pregnant Then Screwed their reconfirmation window is not open yet – meaning many could be “out of pocket” by April 1.

A mum from Norwich, Danielle, told the charity: “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.’’

CEO and founder of the charity, Joeli Brearley, said: “Parents can’t access their codes, providers can’t do their financial forecasting – it’s bedlam.”

She added: “Why does it often feel as though these schemes are drafted on the back of a fag packet without proper consideration for the end user?”

A government spokesperson said: “The childcare application system is working as intended, with thousands of parents applying for and receiving codes to access their new free childcare entitlements every day.

“We are working to ensure all parents can access their codes in time to use the new entitlements in April and confirm childcare places as soon as possible.”


What's Hot