Where Is The Compensation For Nurseries For Their Admin Mountain?

08/10/2017 20:29 BST | Updated 08/10/2017 20:29 BST
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So 30 hours of funded childcare is here despite the sector's repeated pleas to the Government to put more money into its flagship policy or delay for a rethink.

From last month, working parents of three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 30 hours 'free' childcare.

I talk constantly about the financial problems with 30 hours and its meagre funding levels.

But a straw poll by NDNA - the first time nurseries have been canvassed since 30 hours went live on 1 September - has highlighted another big problem.

This problem is a red tape nightmare, another huge cost in the shape of staff time in tackling mountains of admin.

Nursery staff have had an exhausting summer of helping families to claim their 30 hours entitlement as well as handling their own affairs including registering for Tax Free Childcare, processing payments from parents through the new system and liaising with their local councils about 30 hours.

If run well, this sort of thing would be straightforward - but more than often it isn't.

The problems with the Childcare Services website have been well-documented in the media and families missing out on their funded hours as a result of technical problems are rightly receiving compensation.

But the Government hasn't really considered the impact of the chaos on the people who work in the nursery sector.

Our poll revealed almost 80% of nurseries (79%) have spent time helping families to apply for 30 hours.

A significant 14% of respondents reporting this had taken more than five hours of staff time per week during the summer, on average.

That's a lot of time that could have been spent planning, training, attending to other 30 hours and Tax Free Childcare-related paperwork or doing any number of other work tasks.

Where is the compensation for nurseries, whose helpful childcare professionals have no doubt saved the Government from paying even more to families who didn't manage to navigate its flawed system alone?

One survey respondent told us: "The whole process was not ready for the roll out. I've spent hours and hours during the summer holidays sorting out and chasing up codes."

Another said: "I am the person dealing with all enquiries about the Government system, giving advice, explaining the procedures, clarifying that 30 hours is term-time only, yet I cannot charge for this time."

A third respondent told us: "30 hours that has taken loads of our time, letting parents know, reminding them to apply, then verifying all the codes, and chasing up errors - we should be allowed to charge an admin fee for the 30 hour applications as this has created so much work."

One nursery manager echoed many others' sentiments, saying that 30 hours had necessitated an "inordinately complicated" new invoicing system to ensure that parents could see exactly what they were being charged for.

She added: "The administration time of dealing with questions and advising parents of how charges are being applied had been horrendous.

"No consideration is given to this or the knock-on effect this has on running a sustainable business. If we could just deduct the funding from our normal rates everything would be so much simpler."

Our survey makes bleak reading for the Government, currently being berated from every angle over its 30 hours policy.

But these voices make it clear to the politicians what needs to happen next.

The Government is alienating the very people it needs onside right now to make the best of 30 hours - the armies of dedicated nursery professionals up and down the country, frustrated and fed up with red tape and helplines, forms and codes.

This all needs to stop. Expanded 'free' childcare will never work unless childcare providers are confident that they can offer it without drowning in admin as well as making losses on every funded place.

As well as an adequate injection of investment, the Government needs to come up with an admin system that's fit for purpose.