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Council asked to repay father’s nursery fees following ombudsman investigation

Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council has been asked to partially reimburse the fees a father paid while his daughter was receiving free nursery care, after the Ombudsman found it did not ensure a company was providing transparent invoices.

The child attended nursery, with some of the hours being paid for by the council under the Free Early Education Entitlement (FEEE) free places scheme, while the remainder the family paid at the private rate.

The father complained to the council in January 2021 that he was not sure what he was paying for his daughter’s care while his daughter was receiving the free hours because the nursery did not provide an itemised bill.

He believed he had been paying a ‘top-up fee’ for the care, and the nursery was recouping - through extra charges - the difference between what the council paid the nursery for the free places and the rate charged for privately funded care, which was more expensive.

The council met with the nursery to discuss its charges and then told the father he was not paying a top-up fee. It told the father the responsibility for charging parents lay with the nursery. Not satisfied with the council’s response, the man complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).

The LGSCO’s investigation found the council failed to work with the provider to ensure its invoices were clear and transparent. It also found that the nursery was applying a daily charge for consumables of more than £13 for the man’s child, but did not make parents aware that this was an optional payment.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Statutory guidance is clear: councils should work with providers to ensure invoices and receipts are clear, transparent and itemised. We also made it clear in previous reports that ‘free must mean free’ and that nursery providers cannot bridge the gap between the council’s rate and their private rate by hiding charges in opaque bills and charging structures.

“As this man’s child has benefited from these consumables, I have asked the council to repay half of the fees paid out from the date he made the council aware of his concerns.

“The changes the council has agreed to make to the way it works with the provider should ensure other parents are not paying optional fees without their knowledge.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council should apologise to the father and pay him £100 for the time and trouble in bringing this complaint.

It should also pay the father 50% of the consumables charged from January 2021 when he told the council his concerns, to when his child left the nursery.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should work with the nursery to amend its invoices and receipts to ensure they are clear and transparent.

Related Content : Report - Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (21 012 481)

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