This article has been brought to you by Slough Borough Council's Interim Workforce Development and Sufficiency Coordinator, Clare Thompson on behalf of the DfE, for the attention of all Early Years providers.
The DfE has received a number of enquiries from LAs regarding the Competitions and Markets Authority’s (CMA) advice to the sector on charging earlier in the year within the current circumstances. The CMA published an open letter to the early years sector on the 28 July 2020 followed by detailed advice to the sector, with the purpose of helping providers understand how consumer protection law applies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CMA has also since updated its broader advice on cancellations and refunds for consumer contracts affected by COVID-19 health restrictions.
The CMA has advised that, while the circumstances in which providers are operating have changed somewhat since the publication of the letter, the CMA's advice within this letter is still applicable. We ask that providers continue to be fair and balanced in dealings with parents, and they must continue to avoid unfair charging practices.
There will always be individual circumstances in each case, however the general principle is that providers should not charge parents for services that cannot be provided. If there is a barrier to accessing childcare, based on government guidance or the law, the provider should not charge the consumer for this period. For example, from 28 September people in England are required by law to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Accordingly, if a child is self-isolating on the advice of NHS Test and Trace, the provider should not charge the consumer for this period.
The DfE is not currently aware of a rise in consumer complaints about provider behaviour, and will continue to work with the CMA to ensure the sector is offered appropriate advice.