United Kingdom

Nursery fee nightmare: Parents with no child care still facing bills

Cash-strapped parents are being forced to pay nursery fees or risk losing their child's place, campaigners have told Money Mail.

The coronavirus lockdown has caused all schools and nurseries to shut, with only the children of key workers catered for. 

But some parents, who are now looking after their children while also working from home, are still being billed.

Mother-of-two Carla Turnbull (pictured with husband Robbie and children Riley, four, and Lucia, two,) took action after her children's nursery indicated it would charge  in the lockdown

It comes as nurseries in England are now relieved of paying business rates. They are also able to claim 80 per cent of staff wages from the government and get loans of up to £5 million.

Some pre-schools have waived or cut charges for children who can't attend, but others are continuing to charge full fees. Some have even told parents they may lose their children's places if they do not pay up.

The average annual cost of sending a child under-two to nursery for 25 hours-a-week in Britain has risen by 5 per cent in just a year to £6,844, according to the Coram Family and Childcare Trust. 

The cost of sending a two-year-old is up 4 per cent to £6,590.

Mother-of-two Carla Turnbull (pictured) decided to take action after her children's nursery indicated it would charge full fees in a lockdown.

The teacher and her husband, Robbie, 35, pay £270-a-month to send Riley, four, and Lucia, two, to their local Mama Bear's nursery in Bristol for one-and-a-half days a week.

Riley's attendance is subsidised by 30 hours of free childcare offered by the Government to working parents of three- and four-year-old children in England and Wales.

But last month, days before the lockdown began, the nursery wrote to parents indicating it would charge full fees if it was unable to accept children due to staff sickness, nursery closure or an event outside its control.

Carla, 33, says: 'I understood that the nursery may have to charge some fees to cover its staff salaries and other costs like rent.'

But she says it seemed unnecessary to charge parents full fees when they were not looking after their children.

She adds: 'Their outgoings would be lower. It was like they were making a profit during a time of crisis.'

Some pre-schools have waived or cut charges for children who can't attend, but others are continuing to charge full fees (stock picture)

After Carla raised the issue with her local paper, the Bristol Post, the nursery said it would reduce April fees by 70 per cent for parents whose children could not attend.

Last Friday it confirmed these parents would also not have to pay anything in May.

Carla has also amassed more than 1,500 signatures on a petition asking the government to ban nurseries from charging full fees during lockdown. 

She says: 'I am pleased my nursery has stepped forward to do the right thing, but others need to do the same.'

Tony Driffield, co-owner of Mama Bear's, says: 'Our initial communications were issued even before schools and nurseries were ordered to close. We have since adapted our policies.'

Nurseries are currently free to set their own fee policies.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson to call on the Government to allow childcare providers to benefit from the £25,000 grants available to small and medium-sized businesses.

She says: 'I have heard of some parents being told that if they do not pay their fees they may lose their child's place at the nursery. 

'This is obviously particularly distressing if a parent has lost a job or had a pay cut.'

Industry figures have argued that the sector has been underfunded for years and there is not enough government support to ensure their businesses' survival.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, says most nurseries are not charging parents for places that children cannot take up.

She adds: 'This means they have serious cash flow problems, as much of the government funding will not come through until May or June.'

Richard Blunden, group managing director of Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries — the third biggest nursery chain in the UK — says: 'We are not in any way looking to make a profit out of this. We want to ensure nurseries are able to look after children when this is over.'

A Department of Education spokesman says it is continuing to fund councils for free childcare entitlements even if children are not attending. 

He adds: 'We have also put in place a significant package of financial support including a business rate holiday for many private providers and the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to support workers.'

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