DfE clarification: funded entitlements to remain free to access

In response to recent queries about why the latest DfE guidance on providing the early education and childcare entitlements has removed references to additional charges being voluntary, we have received the following clarification for providers:

Clarifying policy on charging

The policy has not changed. As set out in A1.36 of the guidance, Local authorities should work with providers and parents to ensure that all parents, including disadvantaged families, have fair access to a free place, which must be delivered completely free of charge. The free childcare entitlements are not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables (such as nappies or sun cream), additional hours or additional activities (such as trips). Providers may charge a fee for these additions.

However, we removed the line regarding charges being voluntary in order to provide clarity to readers. This was partially based on feedback we received during our testing period with a small number of Local Authorities, providers and relevant bodies. If a parent is unable to pay for consumables or if a parent wishes to provide their own, then the parent and provider can discuss alternative options. This could include allowing parents to supply their own meals or nappies, or waiving or reducing the cost of meals and snacks. As set out in clause A1.33 of the guidance such charges should not be made a condition of accessing a free place.

(Email from DfE, 08/02/2024)

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