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Expand childcare access: Housing associations encouraged to support childminders in England

Housing associations, social landlords and developers in England are being urged to allow childminders to work in their rented properties, to help encourage entry into the profession and increase availability of childcare for parents. 

The children and families minister, Claire Coutinho, has written to housing associations, developers and landlords, urging them to better support prospective childminders who, too often, face restrictive clauses in contracts which stop them from working in their homes. The government said this will help tackle the unfair barriers to those who rent or have leasehold properties, compared with those who own their own home.   

The government has also launched new measures which they say is to support and inspire more people into the childminding sector. The government said the investment will take its expected spending on childcare to over £8bn in total by 27-28 helping parents, especially mothers, access flexible childcare support, return to work and help to grow the economy. 

The government has tabled amendments to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) that they say will mean that childminders can work together in groups of up to four childminders in total and spend more time working outside of their own homes such as in a community centre or village hall. 

The government said it will also consult on reducing registration times to around 10 weeks, make sure childminders are paid monthly by local authorities, and soon launch the childminder start-up grant, worth up to £1,200 for all childminders who have joined the profession since the Spring Budget.  

The number of childminders operating in England has more than halved over the past ten years, with many comparable countries facing similar pressures.  

Recognising the need to grow and support the sector, the government has already boosted the funding rates paid to early years providers including childminders to deliver free hours – increasing them from an average of £5.29 to £5.62 for three and four-year-olds, and from an average of £6.00 to £7.95 for two-year-olds. 

At the same time the Prime Minister and education secretary are urging every parent to check they are claiming the free childcare hours they are already entitled to, with the data showing around one in 20 children nationally may be missing out. There are just nine days to go to claim for hours for the upcoming autumn term. 

Education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said: “Over the next few years we are doubling our investment into free childcare, bringing 30 free hours for working parents of children down to just nine months old by 2025.   

“I wouldn’t want any family to miss out because they can’t find childcare that meets their needs or simply didn’t know how much they were entitled to.   

“With just ten days to go to sign up for free childcare hours for the autumn term, my message to every parent is don’t delay, check today!”   

Children, families and wellbeing minister, Claire Coutinho, said:  “We have outstanding, high quality childminders, offering flexible and accessible childcare in a home-like environment. 

“Too often prospective childminders are having the door slammed in their faces because they face a blanket ban on working from home. 

“However, parents tell us time and again how much they value the flexibility and quality that childminders bring so we are making sure that we are supporting the workforce to deliver what parents need 

“To do this in the best possible way, we are addressing the challenges childminders face including loneliness, where they work, long registration times and local authority pay timetables. Through our support of the sector, we will deliver the flexible care that parents need. 

“Every working parent of three- and four-year-olds is being encouraged to check what they are entitled to for the autumn term so that they are getting the maximum possible support now, and are ready to sign up for the new offers when they roll out early next year.” 

Childminders can currently face challenging registration processes, and according to data collected by Tiney, a childminder agency, one in eight prospective childminders who did not complete the registration process were unable to do so because they could not secure permission to work from their home. 

Childminders who are living in leasehold properties are sometimes being blocked by so-called restrictive covenants, which say that the properties cannot be used for business purposes.  

Some who are living in rented accommodation have found that their tenancy agreements prevent them from registering their business or that their landlords’ mortgage agreements include restrictions from the lender.   

Within the letter to landlords, Minister Coutinho has urged them to engage with prospective childminders to unblock these issues wherever possible, for the good of local communities.   

On top of the existing offers, from April 2024, eligible working parents will get 15 free hours for two-year-olds, from September 2024, 15 free hours will be available from nine months, and from September 2025, 30 free hours will be available from nine months until the start of school.   

Image from Pixabay

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