Northants County Council U-turns over nursery payment delay

Little Learners Nurseries. NNL-180319-133749005
Little Learners Nurseries. NNL-180319-133749005

Northants County Council says it will now pay nurseries as planned after U-turning over a controversial delay.

Nurseries, childminders and pre-schools across Northamptonshire said they could be facing financial ruin after they were sent an email telling them the authority would not pay them money they were expecting for free childcare on April 25, instead moving the payment date to May 9.

The county council said it made the move after HMRC extended the deadline by which new families can apply for government funding, in order to accommodate the extension of the claim window.

But after a backlash from childcare providers the council has now moved the payment day forward to April 25 again.

A county council spokesman said: “We communicated with our early years providers last week that the April 25 payment date would be moved to May 9 in order to accommodate the extension of the claim window by the HMRC.

“This would have meant providers had more time to submit their application for payment due to the Easter break.

“However, following concerns raised by a number of settings, we have now arranged for the payment date to be brought forward to April 25 and will continue to work closely with providers to support them with the funding application process.”

Before the U-turn, nursery owners across the county said the move could have meant they were unable to meet rental payments and large wage bills - leaving them with no choice but to close.

Sam Evans runs nursery group Little Learners, which has sites in Corby and Northampton.

She was leading the Action Against NCC Early Years Department campaign, which attracted the support of hundreds of childcare providers within just two days after being set up on Saturday.

She said: “We received a casual email just before close of play on Friday informing us our April payment will not be paid on April 25 and will, in fact, be paid on May 9, eight days after my wages, my rent, my business rates, insurance and utilities are to be paid. If I email all of those and my staff to tell them I will pay them on May 9 will they accept that?

“The early years department at NCC are our biggest ‘customer’ because of all the funding hours they ‘buy’ from us.

“I have a wage bill of over £100,000 to pay out on May 1 in addition to all the bills. While we also have fee-paying parents those fees do not cover the wage bill completely.

“Our biggest customer who dictates to us how much they will pay us and when - and then drops in, casual as you like, we will pay you two weeks late.

“I work so hard and so do my team. We don’t do this job for the money because it doesn’t pay well.

“We do it because we love it but these problems are putting such huge pressure on us all and when we drop out because of that pressure, who’s there for those young children and those working families?”

Also speaking before the change Emma Serdet, who runs Oakey Dokey childcare in Corby, said: “I cannot envisage a stampede from March 31 to April 23, which is the HMRC extension period for new families to apply for funding.

“The childcare providers are extremely angry and are facing financial ruin.”

Sally Emilio, a childminder from Northampton who has been in business for 12 years, said: “Since September we’ve encountered a whole host of issues. Late payment, underpayment, lack of communication from NCC.

“Bad news is always delivered on Friday afternoon as they head out of the door, leaving us fuming all weekend.”