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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Tories' free childcare policy plans 'riddled with holes', claims Labour

Written by Lizzy Buchan and Harriet Line

Parents could miss out on the Government's flagship free childcare policy as plans are "riddled with holes", Labour has said.

Shadow education minister Tracy Brabin pressed the Government on how many people had suffered technical issues with the online application system for free childcare hours just two months before the policy was due to begin.

Extending free childcare provision was a key part of the Tory election manifesto, offering all parents 30 hours a week of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds from September.

Her comments came during an urgent question tabled by Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran, after problems emerged with the online registration system.

Ms Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, said: "What a shame it is that, when we could be weeks away from a great breakthrough for providers, parents, and most importantly children, we are instead discussing a policy that is riddled with holes and, my word, are there questions to answer."

She urged ministers to guarantee that parents would not miss out on the August deadline for applications and to ensure that the 30,000 people who have already been rejected had been assessed correctly.

Education Minister Robert Goodwill replied: "It's a great offer and I'm really proud it is being delivered.

"We've ironed out the glitches in the software. People are registering, as I say, we are on track for 200,000.

"You ask how many people we expect, the short answer to that is we don't know because it is a voluntary system, people will opt in."

Earlier, Ms Moran, a former teacher, said the minister's answer was a "good effort but just not good enough" as she hit out at the "confusing" application process.

She told MPs: "As one parent said to me, 'Getting the code was the most complicated process I have ever endured. I would imagine that many parents would just give up'.

"They explained that you get passed from pillar to post from different areas of the website, each asking you for a different password sent to you by SMS or email.

"Is this really necessary?"

Some nursery providers are struggling to register and cannot plan for the number of children in the upcoming year if parents cannot provide voucher details, Ms Moran said.

Mr Goodwill moved to reassure her that 2,850 people were registering every weekday and those who struggled with the system could apply offline.

He said: "The vast majority of cases are processed fairly simply but because we need to check that person does meet the eligibility in terms of income, there are sometimes complications.

"I've mentioned self-employed people, people who change their jobs, so occasionally it is more complex."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the minister was referring to its target for 200,000 application codes by the end of August.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Niall Carson / PA Wire.