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Riding out the business challenges facing childminders

The number of childminders in the UK has been decreasing, steadily for at least a decade and, according to a recent Ofsted report, is less than half what it was 10 years ago. The number of childcare places offered by childminders dropped by 70,000 (about 30%) in just the 4 years to March 2023.

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The significant pressures on all childcare providers, from increasing regulation and energy costs to parents with much less money to spend, have all taken their toll on a profession that had already seen the effects of both Brexit and the pandemic.

While the overall number of individual childcare places in the UK hasn’t declined quite as rapidly, further Ofsted data show that it is still going down at a time when the government has pledged to significantly increase government-funded places.

The story that Ofsted’s report cannot really describe is the additional work and stress that childcare professionals are having to endure, as a result.

Like most specialists, early-years carers are generally happiest doing what they chose and trained to do, rather than chasing overdue invoices or trying to push through an increase in their hourly rate that they know parents will struggle to afford.

Whatever sector a business may be in, managing legal disputes is rarely anyone’s favourite job, but getting professional help from a solicitor is often simply unaffordable, especially for very small businesses like childminders. But getting these jobs wrong can be even more expensive and potentially catastrophic.

The legal benefits available to PACEY practitioner members from our specialist partners at ARAG take a lot of the stress and uncertainty out of dealing with such headaches.

First, there’s the Legal and Tax Advice helpline that you can use to get practical, professional advice on any legal or tax matter affecting your business. Just one piece of advice from a high street solicitor could cost you dearly, but you can use the helpline as many times as you may need to, within reason.

Equally valuable and probably even more popular is our Legal Services Website, which provides customisable documents that can be used to create legally sound correspondence and contracts tailored to your specific needs.

Chasing customers who may have fallen behind with what they owe for childcare can be an awkward and time-consuming process, but maintaining proper cashflow is vital to any business. Having formal but friendly letters that are easy to personalise not only puts you in a sound legal position if things do escalate but is often all it takes to get your bill to the top of the pile.

The list of potential legal headaches that childcare businesses could face as we head into another difficult winter goes on and on. Fortunately, PACEY and ARAG have worked hard to make such problems as easy and affordable to deal with as possible.


Reputation, reputation, reputation

The old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” certainly isn’t true of businesses operating in the childcare sector, in which reputation is everything. Perhaps as much as almost any other profession, childcare depends upon a high degree of trust. After all, parents are leaving their children in the care of a nursery or childminder.

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Unfortunately, negative publicity can emerge from nowhere and, whether justified or not, could cause significant and lasting damage to any business. Safety, safeguarding, regulatory or financial issues all have the potential to blow-up into local, regional or even national news stories and, in an age of ‘fake news’, trial by media, and viral social networks, quick, decisive action is essential.

Every month, it seems, a nursery or other childcare business is the subject of negative publicity and often the organisation’s communications and messaging could be greatly improved.

Communication benefits
As well as all of the support for legal and tax issues available in the Legal Expenses Insurance section of many of our policies, our legal protection partner ARAG also provides a Crisis Communication helpline, that offers the benefit of expert and timely guidance in the event that an insured business finds itself the subject of negative publicity.

There are so many demands placed upon childcare businesses, which are facing particular challenges at the moment. From managing rising costs to a very difficult recruitment environment, childminders and business owners have to be multi-skilled.

However, handling a PR crisis is a highly specialist job that calls for very specific skills and experience to navigate a situation in which one miss-step could only serve to make the problem worse.

The problem at hand
Inevitably, negative publicity often results from another event or problem to which the owners of the business really ought to be giving their undivided attention. Having experts available to take care of the communications, will allow child carers to focus on the primary problem at hand.

If the worst should happen, and your childcare business should find itself at the centre of a media firestorm, ARAG will pay up to £25,000 towards professional fees to provide expert advice and support, to help you to manage communications effectively in a time of crisis.

Such help could include drafting a suitable statement for distribution to the media as well as preparing suitable communications for staff, customers and suppliers.

Like most types of insurance, crisis communication cover protects your business against an event that you hope and expect you will never experience. If the worst should happen, however, this is one additional benefit that you will be very grateful you can call upon.


How your legal cover can help

How your legal cover  can help

Morton Michel selected legal expenses provider ARAG to supply legal protection and advice to their childcare policyholders. This cover is designed to support your needs as a childminder and offers services such as telephone advice lines and custom contracts as well as debt recovery actions and legal representation.

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Public Liability insurance is a compulsory Ofsted requirement for registered childminders, just as business use cover is a compulsory legal requirement on your motor insurance if you transport children in your car, but the high cost of settling legal disputes makes it increasingly important to ensure that you are also protected against the potential legal risks you could face. Fortunately, legal expenses insurance is included in your ChildMinder policy as standard to help you manage the risks and potential cost of legal action as well as a host of other benefits such as legal and taxation helplines.

Your legal expenses insurance will cover you for such risks as you being asked to attend Public Childcare Proceedings initiated by a local authority or the NSPCC either as a respondent or intervener, decisions of regulatory bodies such as Ofsted to suspend, cancel or refuse to renew your registration, and even allegations of criminal abuse. These risks exist for all childminders as they might well result from honest mistakes and malicious allegations, so without specialist legal expenses insurance cover the choice between hiring an expensive lawyer or committing huge amounts of time and energy to fighting the case can be ruinous, even if you are vindicated in the end.

Your ARAG cover gives you access to a dedicated legal helpline, staffed by fully qualified and experienced lawyers prepared to answer your questions. These might range from what your obligations are if a child has a severe allergy to what you can do about a childminding assistant whose performance at work isn’t satisfactory.

If you need to hire a lawyer, your ARAG cover will give you access to some of the top firms in the country, all with experience of working with the childcare sector; something few high-street solicitors can say. Moreover, the limit of cover is £100,000 in legal fees, with no excess.

A problem that many childminders face at some stage is the need to recover unpaid debts. Cashflow is invariably a major concern and we know that parents failing to pay their bills can cause serious problems for childminders. The ARAG Legal Business Services website has document-building tools that will allow you to easily create the letters you need to follow the appropriate legal procedure for recovering debts. . If, after following this simple debt recovery process you remain unpaid, the policy will cover the costs of pursuing the matter if there are reasonable prospects of success, even if it means going all the way to court. Many other policies only include cover if the debt is disputed; leaving you unsupported if a parent is simply failing to pay money they know they owe.

Another part of running your business that is bound to keep you awake at night is tax. Whether it’s your VAT, PAYE or anything else you may have to pay HMRC, the enhanced legal expenses cover now provided can help here too. ARAG provide a specialist tax advice helpline, which you can call about any aspect of your tax affairs.

Of course the fall-out from a legal dispute can reach far further than a tribunal or a court case. Today’s social media environment has placed childminders under more scrutiny than ever before. ARAG are acutely aware that managing your reputation in the public sphere has never been more of a challenge than it is in this high information age, and the cover they provide includes a dedicated Crisis Communication advice helpline service. This invaluable resource, which you can use whenever you need it whether or not there is a legal claim, provides professional public relations advice to help you protect your professional reputation and maintain your position in the marketplace.

Morton Michel strives to offer you the most comprehensive childcare insurance in the market. From expert and independent legal and tax advice lines to legal documentation, reputation management and professional representation at court tribunals and police stations, you can work with the confidence that if you need support it will be there. The policy we offer is not just about protecting you from legal pitfalls and giving you peace of mind, but also about supporting you in your childminding business.

Please note cover is subject to terms and conditions.


Debt recovery


One of the skills that childcare professionals often develop is a heightened sense of the local and national economic situation. Like those in the hospitality and property sectors, nurseries and childminders have a unique perspective on the ebb and flow of the wider economy.

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When the UK goes into recession and people start to lose their jobs, the demand for childcare places inevitably drops and some parents may struggle to pay their bills, leaving the provider with unpaid debts. This is just one of the many areas covered by the legal expenses insurance included with all Morton Michel commercial policies.

While the current economic climate is obviously very different and unemployment is still low, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis is likely to raise the same spectre of unpaid bills. Managing such debts to the business could be the key to surviving difficult economic times.

Two of the biggest hits to household budgets have yet to be fully felt. While gas and electricity costs have been climbing steadily, April’s raising of the energy price cap will see bills for millions of people increase by hundreds of pounds, over the coming year.

Interest rates are already rising too, but many homeowners are insulated by fixed-rate deals. Further rate hikes seem inevitable, and the estimated 2 million families on a tracker or standard variable rate mortgage will be joined by another 3 million on fixed-rate deals coming to an end this year or next.

So, how should childcare businesses go about recovering unpaid debts and what resources are available to help?

First, it’s important to remember that the circumstances of every creditor are different. Some may no longer be customers while others may simply be in arrears. Some might have a short-term cashflow issue, where others are struggling with mounting debts. Is your customer unable to pay or just unwilling?

Some debts might even seem more trouble to pursue than they are worth, especially if you are uncertain about the legal rights of the business and what steps you can legitimately take to recover the company’s money.

Recovering debts to the business is one of the common legal problems for which legal expenses was designed to provide help, and there is a series of simple steps policyholders can take to ensure they have the best chance of getting any money that is owed to them.

First, the ARAG Legal website has unique document building tools that will help you to create the letters needed to follow the appropriate legal procedure for recovering business debts. If these are not effective, all ARAG policyholders also have access to our legal advice helpline, which can provide specific advice about particular legal situations.

If the debt is still outstanding, your ARAG policy will pay the costs of pursuing the matter further, even if that means taking the matter to court.

Many childcare providers are experiencing a squeeze of their own, between the rising costs of almost everything from energy to everyday consumables and resistance to any increase they might propose to their own prices, from customers facing hikes in every area of household spending.

Fortunately, all Morton Michel commercial policyholders have access to the resources and support that will give them the best possible chance of recovering any overdue childcare fees and unpaid debts in an amicable and, above all, legal manner.


Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.


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