Matt Hancock announced a change to lockdown regulations on informal childcare to allow children and vulnerable adults to be looked after by people from outside their household.
The Health Secretary confirmed the exemption on Monday night, following concerns raised by MPs whose constituents rely on informal childcare or vulnerable adult care arrangments – such as friends or relatives looking after their children – so they can go to work during the North East’s local lockdown.
From Tuesday, September 22 those living in areas in which mixing between households is banned can form a care bubble with another household to share caring responsibilities, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The relaxation in rules allows parents in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland to arrange for their child or children aged under 14 to form a consistent childcare ‘care bubble’ with ONE other household, so their child or children can be looked after by that other household and only that other household. The same rules apply to vulnerable adult care, too.
It means relatives such as grandparents, aunties and uncles can look after their grandchildren when required, as could a friend of the family – but families can only form a care bubble with one household.
So, for example, if your child has two sets of grandparents living in two separate households, only one set of those grandparents is permitted to look after that child, as long as the North East remains in local lockdown. Similarly, the household of only one family friend or relative could look after a family’s child.
Mr Hancock told MPs: “I’ve heard their concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements.
“For many, informal childcare arrangements are a lifeline without which they couldn’t do their jobs.
“So today I’m able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults, where that is necessary for caring purposes.
“This covers both formal and informal arrangements.”
Below, we take a look at how the rule changes apply to families affected by the North East lockdown, which bans mixing between households in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland. They apply to children aged under 14 and vulnerable adults.
Can my child’s grandparents look after them?
Yes, your child’s grandparents can now babysit or look after your child or children when required. But only one set (one household) of your child’s grandparents can do so. If your child has two sets of grandparents, only one set can look after them. Similarly, if your child’s grandparents live in separate households, only one of those grandparents’ households can look after your child.
Can a friend or any relative like an auntie or uncle look after my child?
Yes, but again, it is limited to one household and must be a consistent arrangement. You are not allowed to arrange for different friends or relatives from separate households to look after your child.
Can a grandparent, relative or friend look after more than one set of children from outside their household?
No, as long as the North East’s lockdown restrictions are in place, grandparents (or any informal childcarer such as uncles, aunties and family friends) can only look after children from ONE household other than the home they live in.
The DHCS says: “In areas with local restrictions, an informal childcare bubble needs to be a consistent childcare relationship, so grandparents will need to choose which childcare bubble they will be involved with.”
Can parents arrange for more than one set of grandparents, friends or relatives to look after their kids?
While the North East’s area lockdown is in place, parents will only be able to arrange for one other household to look after their children.
So, if your child has two sets of grandparents, only one set can look after them.
Will I have to socially distance from a child I am looking after in a ‘care bubble’
No, although if possible, you should try to do so as much as you can.
The DHSC says : “Although you should try to maintain social distance from people you do not live with wherever possible, it may not always be practicable to do so when providing care to a young child or infant. If this is this case – and where young children may struggle to keep social distance – you should still limit close contact as much as possible, and take other precautions such as washing hands and clothes regularly.”
Can my child have ‘play dates’ in other households?
No, The DHSC says care bubbles are only allowed with one other household and they must be consistent.
It confirmed: “One-off arrangements, such as a play date, will not be included [in the exemption].”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It does not allow for playdates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship, that is vital for somebody to get to work, is allowed.”
What happens after the North East lockdown is lifted?
If the North East’s lockdown is relaxed, then the national ‘rule of six’ will apply. It allows people to meet up in groups of up to six indoors, which allows for childcare, as long as there is a maximum of six people in a house (or in a group outside) at one time.
What about registered childcare services, such as nurseries, childminders and nannies?
There are already exemptions for Ofsted registered professional childcare providers, which allow them to look after children during the local lockdown.