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Parents ‘in complete chaos’ trying to access Government’s new childcare scheme

Parents are “in complete chaos” trying to access a new Government scheme that provides 15 hours of “free” childcare, a charity has said.

A survey of more than 6,000 parents across England, who eligible for the new funding for two-year-olds, has revealed several ways in which they are struggling to access the scheme, Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) announced.

Parents have been able since the beginning of the year to apply for a code to access the scheme starting on April 1 but only 11% of the surveyed parents have been able to get their code.

Some told of repeatedly trying to access their code but failing as the website sends them in “an endless loop”, with others “being sent on a wild goose chase” with incorrect advice from the childcare helpline.

The charity said: “(The survey) finds that parents are in complete chaos trying to access the new 15 hours ‘free’ childcare scheme from the Government.”

Danielle Long, a mother from Norwich, complained of “frustration” at the system’s usability.

She said: “The first time I called, I was on hold for four hours, only to be hung up on. I called the following day and waited another three hours.

“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.”

Another mother said that she was only able to get clarity on what she needed to do after a fellow parent pointed her to Pregnant Then Screwed’s Instagram account.

Nursery stock pictures
Just over half of the surveyed parents (55%) have found a childcare provider who is accepting codes for the new scheme (John Stillwell/PA)

Vania Barozzi, 35, a data analyst from South East London, said her daughter turned two in December, but she was forced to rejoin the social media platform in order to find out what she needed to do to apply for the scheme.

“I had to rejoin (Instagram) in order to figure out what I had to do, and it’s only thanks to (Pregnant Then Screwed) that I’ve really got a bit of clarity over it,” she told the PA news agency.

“Also, as with many parents, I got stuck in that window of reconfirming.

“Now we can’t reapply for it until mid February, which to me is not a big issue because my nursery is quite understanding, and they’re also on top of it, but for many parents, and also for some I know personally, it’s impossible because some nurseries ask for the codes in January.

“So unless you follow Pregnant Then Screwed on Instagram you have no idea… and I think this is pretty bad.

“I still have to wait until mid February for my window to reopen, and I really hope the code will be there, if not then I’m not sorted.”

Just over half of the surveyed parents (55%) have found a provider who is accepting codes for the new scheme, with more than a third (34%) saying their preferred provider cannot confirm whether it will accept codes, “likely due to providers not having the necessary information from their local authority”.

Some childcare settings are removing the Government scheme for three and four-year-olds as well as not enrolling in the new scheme for two-year-olds because of “continued underfunding from the Government”, PTS said.

Georgina, a mother of three from Northamptonshire, said: “On Jan 2, my nursery dropped the bombshell that they ‘cannot afford to continually take a hit on the deficit between our daily rate and what we are receiving from the Government – even with charging parents a consumable (top up)’ so therefore they are opting out of the 15/30 hour government funding from April 2024.”

She added: “I just do not know how or if we can afford this and it adds insult to injury that there is funding we’re entitled to yet can’t utilise due to not enough provision in the area we live.”

Parents have been told they cannot apply for a code until their “reconfirmation window” in their government childcare account opens.

Many survey participants said this will not happen until late March, just days before the scheme is due to start, with a small number reporting that their window opens in April after the scheme starts, according to PTS.

A quarter of parents said their provider has given them a deadline to provide their code in order to access the scheme – which PTS described as “concerning” – with just under half (49%) of those parents reporting the deadline is before their reconfirmation window opens.

The Department of Education (DfE) has made clear that there should not be any deadlines before March 31, according to PTS.

DfE said codes that were applied for on time – by the end of March – can be processed after April 1 if necessary.

Joeli Brearley, chief executive and founder of PTS, said: “With just one in 10 parents successfully accessing their code, the majority are still unsure as to whether they will be able to secure the funded hours they so desperately need.

“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?

“Parents struggling to understand the system or trying to secure their code are told to call the childcare services helpline, but parents we have spoken to complain of being on call waiting for very long periods, with many saying the line then cuts out.

“Our benefit helpline isn’t able to keep up with demand, and we’re being flooded with messages. We’ve become a childcare helpline for the Government overnight.”

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.”

The survey of 6,058 parents was “self-selecting” and ran via Typeform – an online form builder – on January 11 and 12.