This article was updated 15 Jan 2021
The country is now in its third national lockdown and it's time to get to grips with the rules again.
Schools are closed but early years settings and childminder settings are remaining open.
But what about informal childcare arrangements where childcare is unpaid and unregistered?
Are those arrangements still allowed?
Yes, they are but there are rules and specific ways of setting them up that parents and carers should be aware of.
- If you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, you can form a ‘childcare bubble’. This allows friends or family from one other household to provide informal childcare.
- Members of either household can provide childcare in a home or public place. This includes overnight care.
- You can only have one childcare bubble with one other household. This means no household should be part of more than one childcare bubble.
- You can only use childcare bubbles for childcare — not for socialising.
- Where a child lives in two places the parents or guardians in those households may form a childcare bubble with one other household each.
- Childcare bubbles are additional to support bubbles and do not have to be with the same household e.g. you could care for an elderly relative and a friend could care for your children.
What is a childcare bubble?
A childcare bubble is where one household links with one other household to provide informal childcare to a child or children aged 13 or under. They can provide the childcare in either or both of the homes from the two households. ‘Informal’ childcare means it is unpaid and unregistered.
All adults in both households must agree to this arrangement.
The childcare can be provided where necessary in any location – public or private, indoors or outdoors.
You can only use a childcare bubble for childcare – that is, where the child’s parent or regular carer is not present. You cannot use a childcare bubble to mix with another household for other reasons.
If you form a childcare bubble, it’s best if this is with a household who live locally. This will help prevent the virus spreading from an area where more people are infected.
What do we do if my child/children live in more than one location?
You can mix indoors where necessary with the other parent to allow your child to move between homes.
Both you and the other parent can also form a childcare bubble with another household.
Similarly, if neither parent lives with your child (for example, because they are at boarding school), you and your child are permitted to leave home to see each other.
Can I change my childcare bubble?
You may change your childcare bubble provided that:
- at least one person in the proposed new childcare bubble is under the age of 14
- neither household is part of a separate childcare bubble which they intend to remain a part of.
If you decide to change your childcare bubble, you should treat your previous bubble as a separate household for 10 days before forming a new bubble. You should not provide childcare as if you are in a bubble during this period.
If someone in your previous childcare bubble develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus up to 48 hours after members of the bubble last met, all members of the bubble must self-isolate for 10 days. You must not form a new bubble until you have completed your self-isolation.
What do we do if someone in the childcare bubble develops symptoms of or tests positive for Covid-19?
If you share custody of your child, and you and your child’s other parent are in separate childcare bubbles, members of both bubbles should stay at home if someone in either household develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus.
This is critical to controlling the virus, as it will help to stop it spreading across multiple households.
What happens if my child turns 14 during this time?
The childcare bubble only continues while there is anyone aged under 14 within that bubble.
Once everyone in a household is aged 14 or above, the childcare bubble arrangement must stop.
Can I have a childcare bubble and a support bubble at the same time?
Yes. Childcare bubbles are separate from support bubbles.
If you’re eligible, you can form one childcare bubble and one support bubble with different households.
You must avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time.
What is a support bubble?
A support bubble is a support network that links two households.
Once you’re in a support bubble, you can think of yourself as being in one ‘household’. It means you can have close contact with the other household in your bubble as if they were members of your own household. This means you do not need to maintain social distance with people in your support bubble.
However you have to meet certain eligibility rules to form a support bubble. This means not everyone will be able to form one.
In terms of children, you can form a support bubble if:
- your household includes a child who is under the age of one or was under that age on 2 December 2020
- your household includes a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of 5, or was under that age on 2 December 2020
- you are aged 16 or 17 living with others of the same age and without any adults
- you are a single adult living with one or more children who are under the age of 18 or were under that age on 12 June 2020
You should not form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble.
You can read the full guidance on forming support bubbles here.