Is The Affordable Childcare Subsidy Making Crèche More Expensive?
Any assistance that families can get when it comes to childcare costs, should surely be a good thing; right? But it appears that the government subsidy officially introduced on September 1st is already causing some crèches to raise their fees.
Even before the launch date, many TDs were getting complaints from families; claiming that rather than saving money, they would now either be paying the same, or more than in previous years.
The new Affordable Childcare Scheme, offers parents of children aged from 6 months up to the age of three years, a non-means-tested grant of up to €87 per month towards their childcare costs; calculated on how many hours per week the child spends in crèche. This adds up to €1040 per annum, which could be invaluable to parents already struggling with the high costs of childcare. Above the age of three, children can avail of the ECCE Preschool scheme until they start primary school.
However, since the new subsidy money is paid directly to the (Tusla-registered) childcare provider, who is then expected to deduct it from fees (rather than being claimed through other means such as a tax rebate;) it has caused consternation amongst crèches, because of the added workload it entails. In reaction to this, some have increased their fees by up to 8% (citing increased administration costs,) while others have opted out of the scheme entirely.
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Childcare services in Ireland have been struggling to keep up with international standards in recent years; with increasing costs, and the introduction of parent-friendly regulations such as the ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme, which provides two years’ free preschool education for children aged between three and five) taking their toll on balance sheets of what are often small, and independently run businesses.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has already warned that this new subsidy will be scrapped if crèches persist in increasing prices; and thus absorbing the money that was meant to be assisting struggling parents. Zappone said recently: "I am asking providers to show restraint when it comes to fees … To do otherwise would weaken arguments for the increased levels of investment needed to bring our childcare system even close to international norms."
Explaining her aim for the subsidy, Zappone continued: "Every year there are some fee increases. This is acceptable when it can be clearly demonstrated in a transparent way that they are to meet pay-needs, and improve quality; and always in consultation with parents. What cannot be defended, are unexpected price increases which leave parents with little or no option but to pay up."
So how have these recent developments affected you and your family? Have you seen a rise or fall in childcare costs; and what are your thoughts on the new scheme? As the debate continues; we’d love to hear your thoughts.