Important update (05/01/21): The government has now announced a new national lockdown, and as a result the tiers system is no longer in use.

You can find information on what the new lockdown means for childcare here. If the government returns to the tier system at a later date, we will update the information in this article as needed. 

The government’s system of Covid alert levels – or ‘tiers’ – has created some uncertainty around what parents can and can’t do when it comes to childcare. In short, paid (formal) childcare in and out of the home is allowed across the tiers, but additional restrictions apply to unpaid (informal) childcare arrangements.  

So here, we’ve broken down what types of childcare are and aren’t allowed, depending on what tier your area is in. Although we have referenced government guidelines, we would always urge you to confirm information against your local government guidance. This information is specific to England – if you live in other parts of the UK, please check your local government guidance.

Is childcare allowed in tier 2, tier 3 & tier 4?

In general, yes. Regardless of what tier your area is in, the government has confirmed that childcare is an essential service and therefore is exempt from the restrictions that have been placed on other types of businesses and households. Even in areas where household mixing is not otherwise allowed, “you can continue to use early years and childcare settings, including childminders, after-school clubs and nannies.”

However, if you or anyone in your household has Covid symptoms or has been told to self-isolate, you must not mix households even for childcare.

Are you allowed paid in-home childcare?

Paid childcarers (e.g. “Nannies” or “Babysitters”) can continue to work in your home, as they are part of a formal (paid) in-home childcare arrangement. This is the case regardless of which tier you are in and applies whether they work exclusively for you or for multiple households.

The sitters and nannies on Bubble are all made aware of our hygiene and social distancing guidelines and have to confirm before each sit that they/their household are not experiencing any Covid symptoms.

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Can friends and family provide childcare?

One of the things that people are most unsure about is whether they are allowed to have friends or family come to their homes to provide in-home and unpaid childcare.

If you are in a tier 1 area, you can continue to use your normal childcare arrangements provided you abide by the ‘Rule of 6’ and maintain social distancing. If you live in a tier 2 or tier 3 Covid area, your options are more limited. 

You can still use family or friends for informal childcare if this is a regular arrangement and they’re part of your ‘support bubble’ or ‘childcare bubble’.

A ‘support bubble’ is an arrangement between a single-adult household and one other household of any size, where you can act as though you are in a single household with other members of the ‘support bubble’.

A ‘childcare bubble’ is where someone from another household provides you with informal (unpaid and unregistered) childcare, if you have a child aged 13 or under. Unlike support bubbles, you do not have to be in a single-person household to join another household’s ‘childcare bubble’.

A ‘childcare bubble’ must always be between the same two households – so if you have a family member who regularly provides childcare, that’s fine as long as you don’t then ask other friends or family to provide informal childcare as well. 

Can grandparents look after children?

Following on from the previous point, grandparents are allowed to provide childcare even in tiers 2 or 3 but only if they are in your support bubble or childcare bubble. You should remember that childcare bubbles are exclusive, meaning that they must always be between the same two households – so if your child has two sets of grandparents, you can only ask one set to look after them in the ‘childcare bubble’ arrangement.

Are you allowed to hire childminders?

Childminders are registered childcare providers who care for children in their own home for more than two hours a day. Regardless of which tier your area is in, you are still allowed to use childminders.

Are holiday & after school clubs open?

Although holiday and after school clubs are still allowed to run (in all tiers), many are currently restricting numbers or are not re-opening, which has led parents to find alternative wraparound and holiday childcare arrangements.

Playdates are only allowed in tier 1

If you are in tier 1, indoor playdates are still allowed, so long as you abide by the ‘Rule of 6’ and social distancing.

If you are in tiers 2, 3 or 4, unfortunately, indoor playdates are not allowed – regardless of whether the children see each other in school.

However, playdates in certain public outdoor places (such as parks and playgrounds) are still allowed in tiers 2 and 3, provided that you follow the ‘Rule of 6’ and maintain social distancing at all times.

In tier 4 an adult is able to meet with one other person outside and children under 5 do not count towards to the outdoors gathering limit. This means one parent and one under 5 can meet with another parent and under 5. However, for kids over 5 any type of playdate is out.

Things may change…

As always, we’ll keep an eye on how the guidance develops over time and will update this page and all our Bubble customers accordingly. 

If you’re looking for a trusted, flexible sitter or nanny near you, you can download the Bubble app for free on iOS or Android.