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Nottinghamshire mum gets £200 after ombudsman upholds day nursery invoicing complaint

Nottinghamshire County Council will give more guidance to day nurseries on invoicing parents after a complaint was upheld by the local government watchdog.

A mum complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman about the way the authority handled her issues with an unnamed nursery.

Her complaints concerned added fees and charges on her nursery bills, including ‘consumables’ like nappies and food being added to invoices without notice.

The mother signed up with the nursery – which was kept anonymous in a report – after qualifying for 22 hours a week of free childcare.

But she complained to the authority in August 2021 and claimed the nursery was not providing a free place.

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She also raised concerns that her invoices were neither clear, transparent nor itemised.

The council was asked to investigate the case and it found some problems with the way the nursery was charging parents.

It found the nursery was charging extra hourly fees, a retainer for holidays and giving no notice when charging for the ‘consumables’.

However, when it asked the nursery to amend its terms and conditions, the council did not get “to the bottom of the problem”.

Investigators also found the authority “did not do enough” to prevent repeat incidents and did not hold the provider to its own Local Provider Agreement.

In its verdict, the ombudsman called on the authority to “learn from this complaint” and ensure other parents do not experience similar issues.

It told the council to pay the mum a combined £200 for the time, trouble and distress of the case.

The council was also asked to refund half the extra charges the mum had paid between January 2020 and February 2022, when her child left the nursery.

The case was discussed by the authority’s governance and ethics committee on Wednesday (November 30).

In the meeting, councillors were told a new audit document has set out best practices for providers when breaking down their invoices.

This, the council says, will make them more “transparent”, clarify what any extra charges may entail and break down all information.

Irene Kakoulis, group manager for early childhood services, told the meeting: “We have issued more guidance to early years settings.

“This makes it clear that invoices should be clear and transparent and that information should be broken down.”

She added: “We accept that we failed in terms of looking specifically at the invoice, but where I feel we didn’t fail is that the parent was still able to access funded childcare.

“The invoices just weren’t clear.

“We have a provider agreement based on national [policies] and, rather than amending that, we’ve created an audit document setting out how to lay out invoices and break everything down.

“It’s a document where we can withdraw funding [to providers] if they aren’t fulfilling their duties.”

Councillor Michael Payne (Lab), who represents Arnold North, said the case makes it “crystal clear” the authority “fell short of our statutory duties”.

But Cllr Philip Owen (Con), chairman of the committee, believed more onus was on the parent to raise the complaint directly with the nursery.

He said: “We’ve got a complainant who’s got a complaint against a nursery and [does not] talk to the nursery, yet we are held responsible, in some way, for that.

“To my mind, that is grossly unfair.”

Michael King is a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

In his verdict, he said: “It is the council’s duty to work with providers to ensure their invoices and receipts are clear, transparent and itemised.

“I now ask the council to consider my report at the highest level to ensure it learns from this complaint so other parents are not disadvantaged in a similar way.”

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