More than 25,000 parents yet to receive confirmation of 30 hours childcare place

By Joe Lepper

| 09 February 2018

More than 25,000 parents are yet to receive confirmation they are eligible for 30 hours free childcare, government figures have revealed.

More than 25,000 parents are yet to receive confirmation of a 30 hours free childcare place. Picture: NDNA

Department for Education (DfE) statistics for the spring term show that 329,505 eligibility codes for the 30 hours entitlement were issued by 11 January, of which 303,883 had been validated by 5 February.

This has left 25,622 parents still waiting to find out if they are eligible and equates to 92 per cent of eligibility codes for the spring term being validated.

It is not clear why the codes are yet to be verified - reasons could include parents having yet to approach providers, problems with the verification system, local authorities and providers being slow at doing the verification, or a lack of available places.

The new spring term figures are an improvement on statistics published last month, which showed that 82 per cent of spring term codes had been validated. 

However, the new figures are down on the proportion of eligibility codes that were validated for the previous term. The final DfE estimates for the 2017 autumn term show that 94 per cent of codes were validated.

The new spring term figures also continue to highlight marked regional differences in the number of parents who are able to take up the 30 hours offer.

In Waltham Forest just 64 per cent of the 1,654 codes were validated, while all codes were approved in 12 areas: Gateshead, Cheshire East, Trafford, Warrington, East Riding of Yorkshire, Solihull, Staffordshire, Camden, City of London, Brighton and Hove, Portsmouth and Bath & North East Somerset.

"While the number of validated 30 hour eligibility codes is holding up against increased demand at a national level, parents in two in five local authorities are still less likely to find a place than their neighbours," said Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance.

"This is only likely to worsen as more children become eligible in the next few months.

"Unfortunately this situation is an inevitable consequence of underfunding. It's time government faced up to the fact that this underfunded policy is failing to deliver genuinely 'free' childcare and is instead asking parents and providers to pick up the tab. The only sustainable solution to this is to increase funding so it matches the true cost of delivering quality childcare."

Meanwhile, the government has published its responses to two consultations on changes to support for children from low-income families due to the introduction of universal credit.

These relate to free school meal eligibility and access to free early years education for two-year-olds.

Currently children are eligible for free school meals based on whether their parents receive benefits such as jobseeker's allowance or tax credits.

But with these being replaced by universal credit the government has confirmed that it intends to change the eligibility criteria so that it applies to households with a net income of less than £7,400 before benefits.

The government's consultation response states that by 2022 around 50,000 more children will be eligible for a free school meal under this change.

However, its response concedes that "a significant proportion of respondents" had called for free school meal eligibility to be extended to all households on universal credit.

In relation to the entitlement to 15 hours-a-week early years education for two-year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, the government has confirmed it will introduce a net annual earnings threshold of £15,400.

It estimates that by 2023 around 7,000 more children will benefit from the new entitlement compared with the current system based on receipt of benefits.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has urged the government to increase the funding rate for providers to ensure they can cope with this predicted rise in eligible children.

"High-quality early education is the best way to narrow the inequality gap," NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku said.

"However, the government cannot just expect early years settings to be able to offer enough places for all eligible two-year-olds with the current funding rate. Our research shows that fewer nurseries are offering these places and more are planning to reduce the number of places they deliver so they can remain sustainable."

blog comments powered by Disqus