When Farrah Sharif, 30, was told she would have to continue paying 80% of her two-year-old son’s nursery fees to hold his place in the coming months, she was confused.
Like millions of other parents she had already taken him out of their east London nursery because of government guidelines, so she didn’t feel she should pay anything.
“We asked them whether they would be applying for the government’s worker retention scheme and the other financial support, but they were really unclear.
“Lots of parents complained and they said they would drop the fees by another 40%, but we still didn’t feel that was right. So we said we would pay for March and then review the situation.”
To her surprise the nursery emailed her back and said it was taking her son Zayn off the register, suggesting she had been ungrateful.
“I was really upset, I felt my son was being penalised for something beyond his control,” she says.
‘I don’t want a flight voucher, where’s my refund?’
‘The future of our nursery is pretty bleak’
Since 21 March, UK nurseries have only been allowed to serve the children of key workers, leaving many almost empty and forcing some to temporarily shut.
But some parents are still being asked to carry on paying some or all of their monthly fees as a retainer to hold their child’s place, with bills stretching to more than £1,000 in some cases.
Nurseries say it is because they are struggling. As small businesses, they can access the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which covers 80% of a workers’ salaries if they are put on paid leave, as well as a one-year business rates holiday. But many say that is not enough.
But while some parents say they are happy to pay, others – particularly those who have lost jobs or are facing financial uncertainty – say the cost is too much to bear.