Childminders and nursery owners from across Northamptonshire are meeting tonight about a county council payment fiasco which has left many providers out of pocket.
Scores of early years providers from across the county were paid wrongly by the county authority last week and now face the uncertainty of when the money owed to them will be handed over.
The county council, has said the problems have been caused by issues with its payment system.
This latest payment issue follows a number of problems last year.
Now in a bid to try and form a collective response to Northamptonshire County Council the providers are gathering at a nursery in Northampton.
Former teacher Lynn Haycocks, who is a childminder from Great Oakley, said the whole system is a mess and she does not know from month to month if she will get paid correctly. She was underpaid last week by £500.
She said: “Each month we all hold our breath to see if we will get paid on the day they say, and then the amount that we have claimed. We have all worked the hours in advance and so this is money due to all providers and can put many behind in other areas, wages for staff, mortgages, rent, etc.
“People are depending on the money due to them and we can not do much about it when it goes wrong.”
Early years childcare is funded by the government. Families qualify for up to 30 hours of free childcare depending on their circumstances and their child’s age.
The government gives the childcare funds to the county council which then passes on the sums to the early years providers.
At the start of each term the providers enter the details for each child on to the county council’s system portal system and then are paid in arrears at the end of each month.
Mrs Haycocks said there are often problems in the month following the start of the term.
She said she was paid late in September and the overdue amount was paid in increments in October and November.
She said: “I am caught. We have to offer funded places because parents obviously want it. If I didn’t offer the funded places people would go elsewhere.
“We are extremely worried about what is going on.”
The providers are given a remittance advice at the end of each month by the council but it is not broken down per child and so they often have to spend time calculating just where the underpayment lies.
The department does not have a phone number so email is the only way to contact the council and Mrs Haycocks said a personal response is often not given.
A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said it was dealing with problem.
They said: “Significant work is taking place to resolve the ongoing issues with the provision of Early Years Funding and the majority of historic issues have largely been resolved.
“Further work will include a complete review and audit of existing administration processes and systems as well as improving correspondence channels, including face to face and telephone support.”
Chairman of the scrutiny committee at Northamptonshire County Council Mick Scrimshaw said he had asked for a formal response from the children’s department. The department is being overseen by Government-appointed commissioner Malcolm Newsam after a recent Ofsted inspection found serious failings in the department.
Cllr Scrimshaw said: “As a large public sector organisation Northamptonshire County Council should not have these problems.
“It seems reasonable that the county council should put someone up to liaise with those who have been affected. People should not have to jump through hoops and feel like they are banging their head off a brick wall.”