“Can I still get childcare?” That was the question on many parents’ lips as the Government introduced tougher rules on the mixing of households -- especially with Half Term approaching.
The Tier 2 (“High Risk”) regulations now apply to the whole of London, most of Essex, and many areas of the North and Midlands. At their core is a ban on the indoor mixing of households. But does that include childcare?
The following information applies to England only, and is accurate at the time of writing (16 October 2020).
Formal Childcare Arrangements
The good news is that paid childcare is unaffected by the tougher regulations.
- You CAN still leave your children with a registered childminder or nanny, even though this would involve two households coming into contact.
- You CAN still use after-school or breakfast clubs, if available.
Informal Childcare And “Childcare Bubbles”
Tier 2 rules also allow for informal (unpaid) childcare arrangements. You CAN still ask a friend or relative to look after the kids. But be careful. There are rules to follow.
You must form a “childcare bubble”. This means you can choose one other household -- and only one -- where your kids can be looked after by someone else. So, for example, you may leave your children with one set of grandparents for childcare. But you can’t then take them to the other set of grandparents (either for childcare or an indoor visit). Once you have formed a childcare bubble with another household, you can’t change it.
Plus, you’re not supposed to use childcare bubbles for socialising. In the Government’s words: “Childcare bubbles are to be used to provide childcare only, and not for the purposes of different households mixing where they are otherwise not allowed to do so”.
The rules on informal childcare apply only to children aged 13 and under. You CAN’T leave older teenagers with friends or relatives, unless they are part of your support bubble (see below).
What About Support Bubbles?
Since early summer, the law has allowed certain households to form ‘support bubbles’. If somebody lives on their own (for example, a lone grandparent), they may form a support bubble with another household, and freely mix with that household at any time. Single parents looking after children can also form support bubbles with another household. These set-ups are unaffected by the Tier 2 rules. A grandparent, for example, in a support bubble with a family in another household can meet them indoors or outdoors at any time, and also provide childcare or look after teenagers.
The rules of Tier 2 allow for two households to meet outdoors (but not indoors), so long as no more than six people gather. That means you could leave the kids with someone not in your support or childcare bubble, so long as they remained outdoors the whole time. That might work for very short periods (e.g. if you have to pop out on a quick errand or for an appointment), but would not be practical long-term.
What About Holiday Clubs And Camps?
The Tier 2 rules appear to allow for activity clubs over the school holidays. There’s an exception to the rules on household mixing “for supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care (before and after school childcare), youth groups and activities, and children’s playgroups”. That would seem to allow for organised activity clubs and camps, so long as appropriate safety measures were in place. However, bear in mind that your children will be mixing with others from outside their school bubble, increasing the risk of infection.
What If We Move Into Tier 3?
If cases continue to rise, more areas of the country may move into Tier 3 (or “very high risk”) measures. Among other things, this stops you mixing with another household even in an outdoor setting. As things stand, the advice given above on formal and informal childcare is exactly the same under Tier 3 (other than the ‘Outdoor childcare’ section). Childminders, nannies and youth activity groups are all still permitted under Tier 3.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.