Nurseries have joined schools in having to close because of the coronavirus outbreak. But if parents and carers stop paying fees, what implications does this have for the nurseries’ futures?
“It’s just a matter of time as to how long we’ve got,” said Denise Williams, who runs Home-Grown Nursery in Malvern, Worcestershire.
“Everybody’s really worried. I’ve got parents asking ‘can you take my child because I have elderly parents who cannot look after the children?’, and they literally don’t know what to do.”
As of Friday, nurseries and all childcare providers across England joined schools in having to close to everyone except vulnerable children and those with a parent identified as a key worker.
For nursery providers, often small independent businesses that rely on fees for funding, the future is uncertain.
Many have told the BBC insurance would not cover them for the Covid-19 outbreak and they feared permanent closure was on the cards.
Mrs Williams said she was worried if parents lost their jobs they may no longer bring their children to the nursery when it reopened.
“It has a massive impact. My staff don’t know how much they are going to be getting paid, I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to pay them.
“We are not allowed to demand a payment because the policy is if we close we don’t charge and that’s fairly universal. So we are asking for those people that are still in work, and that are able to pay, to make a voluntary contribution towards the cost of the childcare that they would have had, in order to retain their child’s place for when we do reopen.”
The outlook was “pretty bleak”, she added, and while the nursery does have a small amount of money set aside, it would not cover all costs.
Mrs Williams’s fears were echoed by Jackie Phull, owner of Kings Heath Grange Nursery in Birmingham.
The situation is “very, very worrying”, she said.
Ms Phull said she was “dependant” on parents to pay fees to cover staff wages.
“I have 30 staff, 10 parents have just left this week, either because they’re self-employed or lost their jobs and we can’t enforce the four weeks’ notice period, 10 incomes have gone from us,” she said.
“My stress levels are going through the roof, I’ve had friends with nurseries in tears, we are in one dire situation.”
Ms Phull said making some staff redundant would be the only option the business faced in order for the nursery to survive and “come out the other side”.
Those fears were echoed by nurseries across the Midlands.
At Hook-A-Gate Nursery, near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, parents were handed letters on Thursday asking them to continue paying their fees.
“At this stage all fees are payable under all scenarios,” it said.
“Despite having the most comprehensive nursery insurance possible, our insurance company in line with most, are refusing to pay for coronavirus closure.”
The BBC has contacted the nursery for comment.
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The Department for Education (DfE) has previously said it would provide registered early years providers with “financial support for these settings as required”.
It added: “To support nurseries at this time, the Chancellor has also decided that they will also now be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year. That means non-local authority providers of childcare will pay no business rates in 2020-21, from 1 April.”
And at Tiny Toez nursery in Cannock, manager Dawn Sarginson was more positive.
She said following the release of the government’s list of key workers, it was hoped she would be able to retain all of her 22 staff.
“We are quite lucky because we’ve got a lot of [children of] key workers so half of our families qualify, so they need the childcare,” she said.
Staff would work on a rota system, with some expected to carry out duties and training at home, Ms Sarginson said, and she was hopeful they would all be fully paid.
She added: “Our parents are really grateful because they are worried about it. It’s an uncertain time for everybody.”