Summary: Councils are required by law to secure between 570 and 1,140 hours of free childcare over no fewer than 38 weeks for qualifying children in their area. This is known as the Free Early Education Entitlement. Leicestershire County Council has an agreement with Kiddi Caru Day Nursery and Preschool in Market Harborough to deliver the Free Early Education Entitlement. Mr F complains he was charged a “top-up” by Kiddi Caru Day Nursery and Preschool in Market Harborough for childcare that should have been free. Both Kiddi Caru and the Council dismissed his complaint.
The Ombudsman upheld the complaint and found fault causing injustice.
We recommend the Council:
- takes whatever action is necessary to ensure Mr F and any other parents who have been charged “top-up” fees by Kiddi Caru Nursery and Preschool in Market Harborough receive their money back. Parents should be issued with a statement showing the number of free hours each child has received, any additional hours a parent has paid for charged at the published rate, and any refund due. The Council should ensure this happens for children who have joined the nursery since September 2018. The Council should send a copy of the statements to us;
- ensures all parents claiming their Free Early Education Entitlement at Kiddi Caru Nursery and Preschool in Market Harborough receive clear, transparent and itemised invoices and receipts so they can see they have received their child’s free entitlement completely free of charge and understand any fees paid for additional hours or services;
- apologises to Mr F for failing to ensure he received his Free Early Education Entitlement completely free, and for failing to uphold his complaint. The Council should take these actions within three months of the date of this report.
- Kiddi Caru operates nine nurseries in Leicestershire, and more in other counties. Leicestershire County Council secures Free Early Education Entitlement hours from Kiddi Caru and other providers. We recommend the Council reviews the arrangements for invoicing and charging at all other providers of the Free Early Education Entitlement it has an agreement with to ensure they comply with the law and government guidance. If the Council’s review identifies problems, it should provide us with an action plan to take the same remedial action we have recommended for Mr F’s case. The Council should carry out the review within three months and, if action is necessary, set out a timetable for action.
- Following government guidance, the Council should ensure the Free Early Education Entitlement is not represented to parents as a monetary subsidy in any pricing schedule, invoice or statement issued by any provider the Council uses.