Fears loophole means thousands of young children could be missing out on free milk

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Thousands of young children could be missing out on free milk due to a loophole, The Independent understands.

Under-5s can get free milk portions through their childcare providers under a government scheme that has been running since the 1940s.

But this only applies to childminders who are registered in a certain way, meaning some are exempt from receiving support.

One childcare agency founder told The Independent it was a “major loophole” that was “having a direct impact on our youngest children”.

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It comes as families grapple with a cost of living crisis that has seen the cost of essentials soar and budgets squeezed and as The Independent has launched its Feed the Future campaign urging the expansion of free school meals.

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The price of low-fat milk jumped by around 40 per cent this year, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Childminders are able to get funding for a third of a pint of milk a day for children under five under the long-running nursery milk scheme.

But this only applies to childminders in England who register directly with Ofsted – one of two ways to become a registered childminder.

Those who take an alternative route and register with a childminder agency (CMA), which can help to cut back on admin, do not qualify for the nursery milk scheme.

It was estimated that around 1,100 childminders were registered with a CMA in a survey in March this year – although the sector says this number is growing.

Under current regulators, a childminder can only look after a maximum of three children under the age of five – the group eligible for free milk – at any one time.

This suggests thousands could be affected by the loophole exempting CMA-registered childminders from the scheme.

Lottie, a childminder from Dover, told The Independent she did not qualify. But she said milk was important for the children she looks after, especially younger ones, so she adds it on to her food bill.

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“It obviously adds to my expenses. And with the cost of living, everything has gone up, so my food bill is getting bigger to provide for them as well,” the 25-year-old said.

Brett Wigdortz, who runs Tiney, a childcare agency, said: Not allowing CMA-registered childminders to access free milk subsidies is a major loophole and one which is having a direct impact on our youngest children.

“It’s frankly scandalous that certain childminders, one of the most highly-regulated, highly-skilled areas of the childcare market, can’t offer free milk to their under-5s when another childminder operating on the same street could.”

Mr Wigdortz, who also founded the TeachFirst training programme, urged the government to “look at this loophole as a matter of urgency and bring parity to early years milk subsidies”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are aware that, at present, the law does not permit CMA-registered childminders to register or claim from the Nursery Milk Scheme.

“We are keen to resolve this and will consider making changes to this legislation when possible.”

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