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Nursery refuse to return childcare vouchers

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This is long and I don't want to drop feed so please bear with me. 

 

Our child has gone to a nursery since the age of 18 months. We always paid for 2 set days (whether she attended or not) and paid for additional days when required on an as hoc basis. We pay with childcare vouchers and set up a payment of £243 per month (maximum we can take) and topped this up when given an invoice. We never had a contract and often invoices were a scrap of paper or handwritten note.

 

When child turned 3 she was entitled to up to 30 hours funded per week for 38 weeks. You can spread this over the year which is 21.9 hours per week. I spoke with owner who said it was fine to continue as previously. The 2 days would be funded (20 hours per week to a total of less than full yearly entitlement) and pay for additional days as required. 

 

The owner was then off sick and the Manager very busy. We didn't have a contract again but did fill in a funding form which stated we were claiming hours for 2 days only at a total of 20 per week. We also filled these in for the 2 following terms. 

 

Naively on our part we continued to pay £243 as we did not want to get in debt and had requested something in writing saying what we were to pay. We did not receive this so continued to pay with a view to ensuring additional sessions were covered and them refunding anything we had paid that was not owed. 

 

When the Owner returned (approx 5 months ago so 5 months after funded hours started) I spoke with her again. She said she would invoice me as I would owe money. I reminded her that child was 2days per week funded and additional days as required and she probably owed me. She did not argue this and said she would look at it. 

 

In April we had no vouchers left (we put it down to the minimum of £5 per week coming out of the wage due to now having funding). We contacted nursery and the Owner said it should have "more or less been right what you were paying". We said this could not be the case as she has 2 days free and we only pay for others as necessary and not often. She said she would look. 

 

After further emails and discussions requesting information and invoices we got a greetings card with a lot of sums in saying we owe £192 per month and then additional sessions on top. No explanation of why. 

 

We emailed and asked why. We got no answer. We then spoke with the Manager who said that it must be a mistake as child is taking fewer hours than entitled and she would look in to it. 

 

5 days later we got an official letter stating that they do not allow funding over 2 days and had claimed 21.9 hours per week and therefore we had to top up the 1.9 hours to a third full day at the cost of £43 per day and therefore they were keeping just shy of £1500 in vouchers. It was written as if by the Owner and said that when we agreed £243 a month that was a mistake but it should be £43 per week. 

 

I emailed giving information that I had never been told this and had only ever claimed for 20 hours and was under the impression we had the same agreement we always had. It is now 10 months later that they want to tell me about this. 

 

The Manager emailed back and it was clear she wrote the letter, not the owner, as she said she assumed I had agreed £243 with the owner rather than continuing payments but that this is the policy so there is little they can do. I have not been given any such policy. Also if it was the policy why did she not know that 5 days before giving me the letter. 

 

I emailed again with lots of information I believe shows we did not know this. I said I never authorised them to claim more than 20 hours per week funding and that I should not have to pay if we have no contract. I asked them to resolve it by 28th June by coming to an agreement with me and if not send me all documents pertaining to child and their complaints policy. 

 

I received a further email saying it was clear it was a misunderstanding but as there is no written agreement it is difficult to resolve. They asked for ideas on how to move forward. They admitted they claimed for hours they shouldn't but said they informed the LA of their mistake. 

 

I replied that day (25th) giving 3 options and linking to a document from LA pointing out that it says I do not have to take full hours and they cannot force me to pay for hours on top of funded hours. All options involved them refunding my money, 1 by sticking to agreement we had prior to funding, 2 by continuing to claim full hours but spread over 38 weeks and us paying only for holiday sessions taken not in term time, 3 adding up total hours claimed and total taken and us paying for any over this at an hourly rate.

 

This email was not responded to. I have now emailed saying that as I have had no response I want the following to decide how to proceed:

All signed documents regarding child

Copies of the forms we completed to claim funding

Copies of any funding claims.they made with LA

Copy of complaints procedure. 

 

I'd like advice from anyone here on how to proceed. I know that businesses selling goods have to offer mediation as of 2015 but I don't know of nursery provision would be included in this. 

 

I know I was stupid to keep paying in good faith because the Owner was ill and should have stopped paying. However, if they didn't have my vouchers they would have no way of claiming this money from me so I don't see why they should get to keep it.

 

Do I take this to small claims if they won't pay? My child has graduation from nursery on 10th and this is making everything very awkward. Our child is meant to be with them until September and I can't make plans for summer holiday care for either of them until I know what I am paying for with the nursery as I need the vouchers to do this.

 

Thanks in advance if you read all that 

 

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