Nursery business support for coronavirus / COVID-19


25 March 2020 update: Some nurseries may be able to claim money back due to Covid-19 outbreak if insured by Morton Michel Insurance. Find out more here

Use our checklist of things you may want to consider:

Children doing crafts at nursery
  • Familiarise yourself with the advice and information here
  • Check your business insurance – are you covered for business continuity if your nursery has to close due to the virus spreading? Do not change your insurance company until you fully understand what they will and won’t cover in event of a closure due to the outbreak. Get it in writing if you believe you are covered. Find out more here
  • Check your T&Cs to ensure that parents know where they stand in terms of payments if their child has to stay away from nursery or your nursery has to close for a period of time
  • Develop a policy to protect your setting - speak to staff about their understanding of the virus, what symptoms to look out for and what to do if they might have them or have come into contact with someone with them. Speak to parents and families about the latest health advice. Ask parents and staff to sign your policy to ensure they know what is expected of them to keep your nursery as safe as it can be
  • Check your health and safety policies – are effective hygiene processes in place to limit the spread of viruses?
  • Develop a business continuity plan to ensure your business can continue to run should the virus affect staff.

Is there anything I can do to protect my business?

  • Keep track of the latest government advice 
  • Check your parent and staff contracts and try to plan for how you can remain open in the face of staff illness
  • Contact your local MP – you can adapt our template letter which asks them to make sure nursery businesses can be fully supported during the outbreak
  • Develop a staff and parent policy for COVID-19 so that you can control and protect your environment
  • Check your business insurance – are you covered for business continuity if your nursery has to close due to the virus spreading? Do not change your insurance company until you fully understand what they will and won’t cover in event of a closure due to the outbreak. Get it in writing if you believe you are covered 
  • Check your T&Cs to ensure that parents know where they stand in terms of payments if their child has to stay away from nursery or your nursery has to close for a period of time
  • Develop a COVID-19 protocol to protect your setting - speak to staff about their understanding of the virus, what symptoms to look out for and what to do if they might have them or have come into contact with someone with them. Speak to parents and families about the latest health advice. Make sure parents and staff know what is expected of them to keep your nursery as safe as it can be
  • Check your health and safety policies – are effective hygiene processes in place to limit the spread of viruses? Thoroughly clean down all surfaces.

Key workers and vulnerable children 
England

The Government has released the list of key workers in England - if a parent's work is critical to the COVID-19 response, or they work in one of the critical sectors, and they cannot keep their child safe at home then their children will be prioritised for education provision.

The key worker list is quite extensive and it is our belief that most nurseries will already be serving a number of children who have parents in these occupations.

We are suggesting that if you have sufficient children to open that you inform their parents that you will be open to them but also let your local authority know what your plans are. However, the local authority will have the power to force you to close if they don’t want you to provide your service based on the latest medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer. We suspect some local authorities will want to create networks of provision across their area so will want to select precisely where these will be but we advise you keep open communication with them and keep them in the loop. The chances are, if you have a number of children, they might want to keep you as a hub.

You will still receive your flexible free entitlement funding for the children in your setting for the rest of this term and the Summer term whether you are open or not. We know that this is only a small proportion of your overall income but if you have made the decision to close your doors but not your business, in other words, you intend to be here offering your service when this COVID-19 crisis is over and nurseries can fully open again, if at all possible you can use this funding as a buffer to keep paying your overheads.

We would also advise that during this period, you keep in contact with both your parents and staff (even those you let go), maybe via newsletter, just to keep your nursery in their thoughts so that they know that you are ready to take back their children when government allows you to do so.

Once the details have been worked out, you can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme  to keep paying some of your staff so that when you do eventually reopen your doors, you will have the staff available to provide your service the children who come back to you.

Depending on your staff contract, if it includes a lay off or short time working clause, you might be in a position to be able to lay off staff for a few weeks until you know more rather than making them redundant. If you decide to make some of your staff redundant, please do check your contract with them and speak to the 24hr legal helpline on 02921 153 812 to ensure that you are doing everything by the book.

Please check to ensure that your insurance policy covers you if you remain open for keyworker and vulnerable children. We have heard reports that some insurance companies are saying that due to government intervention, their regular insurance cover will become null and void if they remain open. Each business and each policy will be different so please check with your insurance provider. We can however confirm that anyone covered via Poundgates will still have cover so long as the nursery continues to work within published guidelines, i.e. government and Ofsted.

Scotland
We have received further detail from the Scottish Government as to the definition of key workers:

Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID response and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life threatening work, Energy suppliers, staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff

Caterory 2 – Health and Care workers and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services

Category 3 – All workers without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland.

Local Authorities have been advised to ensure that children of key workers, have continuing access to appropriate learning and childcare that allows parents/carers to participate in the COVID response. 

What about ratios?

In England, providers need to make their own decisions regarding ratios. EYFS guidance will be republished - but there is currently no plan to give any further advice. Look at 3.30 and 3.31 in the EYFS in cases of emergency, provided children kept safe:
  
3.30: The ratio and qualification requirements below apply to the total number of staff available to work directly with children. Exceptionally, and where the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained, changes to the ratios may be made. For group settings providing overnight care, the relevant ratios continue to apply and at least one member of staff must be awake at all times.   

3.31: For children aged under two:

  • There must be at least one member of staff for every three children
  • At least one member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification, and must be suitably experienced in working with children under two
  • At least half of all other staff must hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification
  • At least half of all staff must have received training that specifically addresses the care of babies
  • Where there is an under two-year-olds’ room, the member of staff in charge of that room must, in the judgement of the provider, have suitable experience of working with under twos.

What is lay-off or short time working?

Our legal helpine says: 

Lay-off and short time working clauses, allow you to ask staff to stay at home or take unpaid leave if you are unable to provide them with enough work.   Short time working is when hours are cut and lay-off is when staff are off work for at least one day.  Staff may be able to apply for redundancy if they are laid off for either:

  • 4 weeks in a row, or
  • 6 weeks in any 13 week period
  • Staff may be entitled to statutory guarantee pay during lay-off or short time working.  The maximum entitlement is £29 per day for 5 days in any 3 month period.  For more information on eligibility, see www.gov.uk.

What if employees do not want to come to work due to fears about the Coronavirus?

Our legal helpline says: 

It is important to listen carefully to any concerns employees have and consider if any alternative arrangements can be made.  It should be noted that the government has now advised that where employees are able to work from home, they should.
As such if you are able to offer homeworking then you should do so.  

If you are unable to offer homeworking then it would be worth considering allowing employees to take time off as holiday or unpaid leave.

In normal circumstances you would be able to take disciplinary action when an employee refuses to attend work.  As these are unprecedented circumstances we would consider exercising caution and seeking specific advice before considering disciplinary action in these circumstances.

Are Inspections continuing?

England: No
Ofsted has temporarily suspended all routine inspections of schools, further education, early years and social care providers. Urgent inspections where specific concerns have been raised will still go ahead. Ofsted will not be publishing reports from its recent inspections of schools, further education and early years providers until they reopen as normal for all children/students. It will continue to publish a small number of reports from recent social care inspections.

Wales: No
Inspections in Wales have also been suspended.

Scotland: Scaling down
Care Inspectorate: “The Care Inspectorate has a duty to consider carefully how best to support care services in the vital work they do caring for vulnerable people.

"We have taken the decision to scale down our inspections of care services and our joint inspections of local authority social work services and health and social care partnerships at this time, and put in place arrangements which will involve gathering information, assessing the level of risk in care services and establishing assurances about the quality of care people experience.

"In order to protect the safety and well-being of people experiencing care we are only making visits to services when that is absolutely necessary. 

"We are also planning to operate in a similar manner around complaints.

"Anyone with a concern about a care service should, in the first instance, raise this with the manager of the service. The Care Inspectorate will consider complaints and will apply a risk assessment that may result in complaints being referred to the service provider for investigation. 

"We will be prioritising our registration work that supports the national response to the coronavirus outbreak and the sustainability of services.”

Do I need to close my setting?

England
The emergency legislation which gives government the powers to enforce nurseries in England to either close or stay open to look after key work children will be passed in Parliament soon.

We would strongly suggest that you immediately contact your local authority and let them know of your intentions. They will let you know if they are happy for you to do this or not. 

Scotland
Further to the Education Minister’s statement in Parliament on 19 March,  there is a detailed outline in a letter sent to the Local Authorities of the schools and nursery closures. 

The letter contains very detailed guidance with regards all aspects of the closures and in particular to Private Nurseries the following is set out:

“We are advising private and third sector childcare providers that they can remain open subject to the following:

  1. That they refocus their operating models to support solely the children of critical workers and vulnerable children; and
  2. That, wherever possible, they do this in coordination with local authorities in their areas, to ensure maximum efficiency.
    These measures apply to all registered day-care of children settings (including afterschool, breakfast clubs and holiday provision)”

I understand this to mean that you can remain open to provide childcare for parents who are in one of the categories listed above. You should where possible contact your local authority ELC Team if you are remaining open to make arrangements to support parents who are in any of the categories listed above. 

The Scottish Government and COSLA have produced further information for private and third sector providers about closures and emergency childcare and closure of daycare of children services: information for parents.

Further details in regards to regulatory flexibility are included in this letter from the Care Inspectorate here.

Wales
Schools and childcare still open to children of critical workers. See the latest update from Kirsty Willliams AM here. If you haven’t been contacted already, please make sure you look at the key workers list and prepare your own list of parents and contact your local authority about them.

The Welsh Government has updated their guidance on childcare for parents and childcare providers during the coronavirus pandemic and have provided many FAQ’s as part of the guidance to include a question related to charging parents for fees:

The Welsh Government acknowledges that, in many cases, the insurance that early years providers have will not cover them for income lost during COVID-19-related closures. There is a range of support for businesses to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on them. We are asking childcare providers to be reasonable and balanced in their dealings with parents. The Welsh Government is keeping what further support businesses may require under close review.

The Welsh Government have also published  5 things you need to know before sending your children to school or childcare which includes a link to the list of categories of critical workers, and also answers the following question about critical workers:

If you are in a family where one parent is a critical worker but the other parent is not then the other parent should provide safe alternative arrangements at home when possible

We have been asked by the Welsh Government to provide information about how many of our member nurseries are remaining open, therefore if you have not already you will receive a call from a member of the team at some point today.

We are looking for childcare settings that could provide full day care including possible care on the weekends too. We are also looking for staff from settings that cannot operate, to supply a bank of staff that other childcare settings can call upon to maintain ratios. 

Please respond to our short expression of interest here in English or Cymraeg, so that we may supply details to key partners such as Welsh Government, Local Authorities and Care Inspectorate Wales.

Whilst we will be asking you to complete this survey, we also know that local authorities will be working to understand what the coverage looks like locally too. If you haven’t been contacted already, please make sure you look at the key workers list and prepare your own list of parents and contact your local authority about them.

Here’s the advice from Gillian McAteer, Head of Employment Law at Citation:
If you have to close the nursery, generally speaking you would still be obliged to pay employees as you are not meeting your obligation to provide work. If you have a lay-off clause in their contract, you could invoke this in which case the employee would only receive statutory guaranteed pay. This is currently £29 per day (or less if the employee is paid less) and it is paid for the first week of work lost. It needs to be in the contract though so this should be checked.

As an alternative, the employees could take holiday but this would have to be by agreement as the situation of a sudden closure would not allow the employer to give sufficient notice to compel them to take the holiday.
If you are in any doubt, contact the legal helpline.

Do I need to let the regulator know if I have to close my nursery?

NDNA has asked Ofsted, Care Inspectorate Wales and Care Inspectorate Scotland for a response to this question and will update this as soon as possible. Public Health officials will let you know if you need to close the nursery. At present (25 March) you do not need to inform Ofsted.

If I close my nursery, will parents have to pay for places as normal? Do I have to pay my staff?

This very much depends on the contract you have with parents. It’s a good idea to check what you already have in place and if you are in any doubt, contact the legal helpline.

The announcement in the recent Budget regarding payment of staff during a closure was that SSP will be payable from day 1 and the cost of providing 14 days of SSP for those with coronavirus will be refunded by the Government in full. In addition, the Chancellor has announced a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme  to ensure that businesses can access grants to cover up to 80% of employees’ salaries up to £2,500 per month. We await further details and will share with you as soon as we know more.

We held a live Q&A session with Citation's employment law and health and safety specialists on 18 March which might be useful for you to watch. The recording is here and covers questions such as

  • Do I still have to pay my staff if I’m forced to close?
  • Can staff ask to be paid as holiday or would they have to take SSP if we are instructed to close?
  • How do I undertake a deep clean of my nursery?

Regarding parents, our legal helpline says: "Generally, if you are unable to provide a service, you will be unable to charge normal fees. You should check the specific terms of your contract with parents to see if there is any provision that allows you to charge in these circumstances.   Our view is that it is very unlikely for contracts to be specific enough for you to continue to charge for a long period of closure. It is always possible to vary a contract with agreement.  As such we would suggest that you attempt to negotiate a retainer fee with parents and this will allow them to retain their space in the nursery once the current crisis comes to an end."

Regarding staff our legal helpline says: "Generally, if staff are ready and willing to work, but you are unable to provide work, staff will be entitled to their normal pay. It is worth checking your employment contracts to see if there are any provisions for short time working or lay-off.   Any closure as a result of the Coronavirus will allow you to invoke these provisions. An employment contract can be varied with the agreement of both parties.  As a result staff may be prepared to accept reduced hours or reductions in pay in order to avoid redundancies and to safeguard their jobs in the long term."

There is a useful Q&A for parents and carers about closures which may answer some of their queries. This includes charging parents whose children are NOT in nursery. The government is asking nurseries to be “reasonable and balanced” regarding paying fees. 

As you all know by now this is a situation which changes daily. We know this is really difficult for you as you try to plan for what comes next, look after the children in your care and support your staff and parents. We are working to make sure your experiences are taken into account by Governments and local authorities and are working tirelessly for you to keep you updates.

What is NDNA doing about the lack of cover with Poundgates Insurance?

Members insured with Eccesiastical will not be covered for business interruption due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). We understand how disappointing this news has been for all of our members who have insurance via Poundgates and how serious this is if a setting has to close or paritially operate. This is why we requested a meeting with Poundgates and Ecclesiastical last week and strongly requested that the insurance company reconsidered its position. 

In the meantime, Poundgates has confirmed that if any members would like to terminate their insurance, they should get in touch immediately. In most cases you should receive a pro-rata refund. However, we would urge all members to be vigilant when choosing a new insurer. Please ensure that you are fully conversant with the policy wording prior to signing to make sure that you are purchasing the desired level of protection.

Members with enhanced cover with other insurers may find that they are covered for COVID-19 but please do read your policy document and contact your insurance company if it is not clear. 

On 25 March we were notified that Morton Michel is setting up a Nursery Care Online Claim Form to help providers make a speedier claim than via telephone. You can find details here .

See all coronavirus support  

Disclaimer:  Any information above from our legal helpline is provided for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities.  This should not be treated as formal legal advice and no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Our legal helpline makes every reasonable effort to ensure this information is accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.