Contracts and agreements

Looking for information on contracts and agreements with your childcarer? We've cut through the confusion with a list of key areas to consider when working with your childcare provider.

A well-written contract is essential and can help ensure that you get your relationship off to the best start. It provides much needed peace of mind for both providers and parents, and is vital to have in place before your child starts at a setting.

Make time to carefully read the entire contract, including the notes for guidance, before you sign it. Ask for clarification from the provider if you're unsure of anything. It is a process of negotiation so if something feels unreasonable, you should say so.

Deposits

A deposit is a one-off payment to show your intention to take up a childcare place for your child. Each type of childcare setting will have their own process for deposits.

These are normally refunded, however, the deposit is not usually returned if you decide not to take up the place. This is because in holding the place for a child, the setting may have had to turn away other families and is also incurring overhead costs e.g. staff, rent, mortgage and insurance whilst that place is left empty until the child starts.

However, if the setting can't for some reason take on your child as previously agreed, they should refund the deposit in full as no service has been provided. Details of the deposit paid should be included on the contract.

Settling-in period

PACEY recommends a two- to four-week settling-in period, and that this should be noted in a separate area of the contract. If your child is unusually unhappy during this period, the contract may be ended during the settling-in period without the usual notice required and the deposit refunded or used to cover the cost of the settling in period.

Notice Periods

Notice periods and cancellations fees may be appropriate in normal circumstances, where a business is still able to provide a service but you decide you no longer want it. Before signing a contract, ask to see cancellation terms, and notice periods, and check they are fair and reasonable. Additional fees should not be charged if your child continues to attend during the notice period.

Where your child does not attend or a service is not provided during a notice period, reductions should be offered to reflect lower business costs (such as food for the child) or no service being provided.

Enforced Closures

During the time of an enforced closure or a pandemic, a provider can ask you to pay a retainer to keep your child’s place, if it is for a fair and reasonable amount and is only used to cover unavoidable costs during the period of closure.

You should always have the option to provide notice (exit the contract) during this time. Any retainer would need to be reviewed on a regular basis to see if it is still appropriate, especially if an enforced closure lasts for a sustained period of time, for example, a number of months.

Holidays

Providers are able to charge for holidays and public/bank holidays, but these must be clearly communicated in the contract and you must agree to terms of the service offered before signing the contract.

Nursery settings may operate all year round but childminders and pre-schools are often closed for a number of weeks each year. It's a good idea to agree with them how you plan to arrange your holidays at the beginning of the arrangement. Often providers have a set period of holiday which they will make you aware of at the start of each year, and this could be a good opportunity for you to plan or book holidays.

Discussion about holidays is key before signing contracts as holiday arrangements are often unique to providers.

Some registered childminders charge half fee for parents/guardians’ holidays and half fee for their own time off.

Some charge full fee during parent’s holidays, but nothing during their own time off.

Some charge full fee for both their own and parents time off but do their best to coordinate time off so that parents/guardians only pay for childcare once.

Some registered childminders and parents/guardians prefer to negotiate a childminding rate which includes an element for paid time off.

Your childminder is running their own business so no two may necessarily work in the same way. Make sure you discuss how holiday arrangements when you first meet.

Sickness

Providers should advise you what plans will be in place if they were to become ill, and if alternative care can be arranged. If a provider is showing symptoms of Coronavirus they must follow government advice .

In a nursery setting there are normally sufficient staff to cover illness, but it’s a good idea to check what the key person arrangements are if your child’s key person is unwell.

Some childminders work as part of a group or informal network to ensure they have a backup childminder that the child is familiar and comfortable with, in case of holidays, sickness or emergencies.

Providers in England will have a illness/infectious disease and exclusion procedure for responding to children who are ill or infectious in which they outline how they will deal with a sick child. If your child has shown any signs of being unwell in the preceding 48 hours you should let the provider know. Usually, if a child becomes ill whilst in their care, they will contact you and ask you to come and collect your child.

If a child or parent is displaying any coronavirus symptoms government advice should be followed.

Permission forms

Each setting will have their own permission forms that you will be asked to read and sign.

If using a childminder they may give you a set of parental permission forms for you to complete at the beginning of the contract. These show that you have given your permission for your child to take part in certain activities, for example, going to a regular childminding drop in, or travelling in the childminder's car.

Policies and procedures

Each setting will have their own policies and procedures. There is no specific requirement in the EYFS for registered childminders in England to display written policies and procedures, although PACEY recommends that childminders keep written copies of their policies and procedures to actively share with parents and inspectors.

Nursery settings will have a set of written policies to share with you, while childminders in Wales must also make policies and procedures available should you want to see them.