Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 60 - 77)



  60. But can I put it to you that, perhaps acting again as devil's advocate, if they are already paying £22 for registration and inspection, given that they are generating some income, albeit a very modest one, another £10, if it were £10, would be seen as part of the necessary cost of establishing yourself as a registered childminder, and thereby having a kind of kite mark which would not be available to those who had failed to register?
  (Ms Haynes) I would hope, if people failed to register, that the new Ofsted agency would be very much tougher on enforcement than local authorities have been in the past; because, actually, if somebody is looking after other people's children in their own home and being paid for it, they are acting illegally. And so I do not think it is a question of a kite mark, I think it is a question of a minimum standard, which is what the new National Standards for day care and childminding are set out to do. But at the point at which a person, and it is usually a woman, decides to become a registered childminder, they usually have a couple of children themselves who are under five, they probably have not worked, they have no independent income, and in order to start to earn an income they have to be registered, but in order to be registered they have to have an enhanced criminal record check, and not only do they have to have one for themselves, they have to have one for their partner as well, and 98 per cent of childminders actually are living in a two-adult household.

  61. But does that apply at the moment; when they register, under the present arrangements, do they also have to register that there are the following adults in the household?
  (Ms Haynes) Yes, they do, and that is why registered childminding is such a safe environment, because everybody in a childminding household, partner, any adult over 16, any regular visitor to the household over 16, grannies who live there, over 16, everybody has to have a police check.

  62. I hope grannies are over 16, I have to say.
  (Ms Haynes) They probably will be; but you know what I mean. Everybody has a police check. That is a very high level of security that is being afforded to people when they use registered childminders.

  63. If there are 85,000 regulated and registered childminders, how many unregistered do you reckon there to be?
  (Ms Haynes) That is not a question that I can answer.

  64. Give us a sort of ballpark, guesstimate?
  (Ms Haynes) No, I am not prepared to do that, because it is a matter that local authorities should have been monitoring, and their outstanding enforcement actions, which will become public knowledge in a few months' time, should actually give an accurate position. It is very difficult for unregistered childminding to be quantified, because in order to prove that someone is acting illegally you have to have evidence, as one rightly should have, that money is changing hands, and that can be a very difficult thing to do.

  65. Can I just ask you a couple of other questions. One is, we were talking earlier about the validity of any certificate that is issued; in terms of your customers, the parents, again, I suppose the same principles would apply, that they would want to see the certificate being up to date. Have you in mind how often the certificate should be renewed?
  (Ms Haynes) I think we have a big public education programme still to do, in this country, which actually does ensure that parents have that level of interest and knowledge about the ways in which their children are being cared for. So, for example, we try to work and publicise the fact that parents should always check to see that their childminder is registered, they should always check to see that they have a public liability insurance, and they should always ask to see the most recent inspection report. And the way in which the system works at the moment is that, every year, most local authorities, for example, in Bristol, they will send out a self-assessment schedule for childminders, prior to their annual inspection, at which point the registered childminder is asked to indicate any changes that may have happened in their household and to make any declaration about any changes which are material to their registration as a childminder. And it is at that point, if you like, you have an annual self-appraisal, in terms of the police check. But in many parts of the country police checks are not done on a regular basis, in many parts of the country, in London, for example, there have been occasions, in the last two years, where it has taken nine months for a childminder's police check even to go through. So the capacity of police forces across the country varies enormously. The West Midlands has had a very good protocol with local authorities, and has always worked on the basis of—


  66. There are at least two of us here not surprised at that, three of us, actually.
  (Ms Haynes) Good; but they have had a very good protocol, which has worked with local authorities, whereby, on a regular basis, the police force would inform local authorities of anything happening to somebody on whom they had been asked to give a police check in the past five years; and so it was kept up to date, in the way in which the Criminal Records Bureau, hopefully, will be able to work. But an awful lot of people employ nannies in this country, and they do not have to have a police check, or a health check, and many of them come without references; and so I think, as I say, we have a very big public education programme to do, in terms of making sure that children are safe.

Mr Howarth

  67. My view is that the parents faced with the choice of getting a childminder who is registered with your organisation and who has gone through all these hoops and hurdles then they are probably better bets than a childminder who is unregistered, and that they should take note of that. Finally, can I just ask you this question. Given your concern about the multiple registrations that would have to take place where a childminder has other adults in the household, and that does differentiate you from the voluntary sector, what is actually going to happen if one of those adults says, "I am not going to fill in this form"?
  (Ms Haynes) Then that person would not be able to be registered as a childminder, because the Care Standards Act, which amends Part X of the Children Act, in terms of day care and childminding, is quite specific on that point.


  68. You told us, Mrs Haynes, that the number of childminders, I assume by that you mean registered childminders, has fallen by a quarter in the last three years. Now I can understand there are going to be fluctuations in this, for a whole variety of family reasons, but that is a fairly dramatic fall. Do you know why that has happened?
  (Ms Haynes) It has been a very dramatic fall and it has been the result of a number of factors coming together at the same time. Without being cynical, one of the reasons why the numbers have gone down is that all the databases that have recorded registered childminders have had to be cleaned up, in advance of the transfer to Ofsted, and so local authorities may have held records which were rather ambitious in the numbers of people that they had as registered childminders. But, if you take a place like Birmingham, which has got a very good—sorry to use the West Midlands area—

  69. No, please do; some of us like it.
  (Ms Haynes) It has a very good record, in terms of having accurate records and databases. It was just that I had to be there last week, and so it is fresh in my mind. They have recorded a very dramatic fall in the numbers of registered childminders. Part of that has been simply as a result of there being many more opportunities for women with children to be combining paid work with looking after their own children, at the point at which they go to school. And so, for example, in a place like Malvern, where there was very little employment for women up to a couple of years ago, there was a very significant body of people who had young children who were registering as childminders to combine paid work with looking after their own children. A big out-of-town shopping centre opened, offering work within the supermarkets between 10 and 3 and no school holidays; and there you have an obvious reason why people might decide to shift occupations. And when, as I say, the average weekly income, in many parts of the country, gross income, of a childminder is only just over £100 a week, you can see why people might think very carefully about many of the options, once options start to be there. So I think the economic situation has been the single biggest factor, but, nevertheless, the advent of start-up grants for childminders, in a place like Birmingham, has actually addressed that decline, and so it is quite clear that actually not being able to afford to start up childminding when you have got no income has been a significant problem.

  70. You use this average figure, and I am never very taken with averages, because on the law of averages you never meet somebody who is average, do you, if you think about it?
  (Ms Haynes) Absolutely.

  71. It is like winning the Lottery. What is a better ballpark figure for that, what would be a reasonable income for a childminder? I know it is a big question.
  (Ms Haynes) It is a big question, but I thought you might ask me, so I rang up a childminder whom I know. In Bristol, going to a different part of the country, where there is a highly competitive childcare market, the big nursery chains have moved into the South West in a big way, but there are still many families, particularly commuting families, or people working slightly odd hours, who really want the back-up of a registered childminder. So a full-time childminder is earning probably, gross, about £10,000 a year, and net about £6,000, because the expenses of running a childminding business actually are quite high themselves; so you are looking at about £6,500 a year. Does that help?

  72. Yes; thank you. I think that just gives us a better sort of flavour. You were mentioning earlier that some childminders work for as little as £1 an hour; how does that come about? I thought we had a National Minimum Wage?
  (Ms Haynes) Childminders are self-employed, and so the National Minimum Wage does not apply to them. Even the Working Families Tax Credit, childcare tax credit, is predicated on a cost of £2 an hour for childcare, so that does not actually lever up the amount of money that people are able to charge. And we have done a fairly extensive review of the impact of Working Families Tax Credit on childminders' ability to charge higher rates, because we thought that this might be something that Government said would happen, but the first six months of its operation it was only having an impact on less than 5 per cent of childminders in England and Wales.

  73. Would you expect that to increase, over time?
  (Ms Haynes) I would very much hope that it would increase over time, but I do think that there are a number of glitches in the current system which seriously need to be tackled, one of which is the fact that the childcare tax credit is paid to the parents and not to the childcare provider, and so there is the potential for money to be diverted away from the person who thought that they were going to be providing the registered care, and suddenly finds that the parent no longer requires it.

  74. Do you have any experience of groups of childminders, just going back to Malvern for a moment, which happens to be in the West Midlands, for those of you who do not know, setting themselves up as little businesses, say, three or four mums, I suppose, typically, saying, "We'll make a little business out of this"?
  (Ms Haynes) Childminding is a business, and it is recognised by the Inland Revenue as being a business, it is recognised by Europe as being a small and medium size enterprise; and we have introduced a quality assured childminding network model, which is proving very popular in many parts of the country. So it is done on a different sort of scale, in different sorts of areas.

  75. It could help, obviously, I guess, with the Working Families Tax Credit, if it was done that way round, rather than being self-employed, for example?
  (Ms Haynes) I do not think the question of being self-employed makes any difference at all, as to helping the Working Families Tax Credit. Childminders are registered carers, and so are eligible to receive Working Families Tax Credit; the important thing is that many of them sign the forms to say they are going to provide the care, and then after three or four weeks the person that requires the care is not there any more.

  76. Just finally, if I may, Mrs Haynes, some of the evidence that has been put to us is that one way in which the Bureau could proceed would be not to levy a charge where a check is being made of somebody who is volunteering, but to have a charge where somebody is making a check for employment purposes. If I have understood you properly, one of your arguments about childminders not having to meet this cost themselves is really because their incomes are so low; is it?
  (Ms Haynes) It is the fact that their incomes are so low, it is the fact that, because they are home-based care, they are operating within the context of a family, and so they have all the other family members, not just themselves to pay for. They will also have to organise the bureaucracy, if you like, of completing the police check forms, for sending them off to the Criminal Records Bureau, getting them back, everybody opening up their forms and working out who did what, where. Actually, the protection of children, which is what police checks on registered carers is about, seems to me to be something which has been done extremely well by local authorities, in conjunction with the police authorities. And I would make the point that 10 per cent of records that come back for prospective childminders actually do have something on them, for probably the members of the family, as a colleague earlier in The Guides Association said, it might be a speeding offence, it might be a shop-lifting offence when that person was 14. Now if that comes back to a local authority, the local authority's protocol is to meet with the prospective registered childminder, to talk to them about the information that has come back and to explain to them that probably nine times out of ten this does not disqualify them from going forward as a registered childminder. It seems to me that that facility is going to be lost in the new arrangement, and what you are going to have is a fall-out of people coming forward for childminding in general. And that cannot be the intention of Government at the moment, because they are spending £8 million in trying to recruit people into the childcare workforce. So we have a situation where we have the worst possible timing of people moving over to Ofsted to become part of the Ofsted regime, where one can understand that there have been some reservations on behalf of registered childminders.

  77. But Mr Woodhead has gone.
  (Ms Haynes) About being inspected by Ofsted, because lots of them have got children at school and know what that has been. So we have had to do a very big PR exercise to persuade them that it is not going to be like that, only for the Criminal Records Bureau to pop up, in August, and to require childminders, really with virtually no publicity or no notice, to take responsibility and bear the cost for something which has always been provided by the registering authority free of charge.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mrs Haynes, for your help.

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