Affordable childcare: who is eligible and how much do they get?

Parents of under-threes to get €20 a week with payment set to start on Friday but estimated 9,000 parents will be left without state subsidy

Introduced in last October’s Budget, the Affordable Childcare Scheme is a new national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of their childcare - but it’s not yet as comprehensive as had been first envisaged.

Introduced in last October’s Budget, the Affordable Childcare Scheme is a new national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of their childcare - but it’s not yet as comprehensive as had been first envisaged.

 

For many parents it may be a misnomer, but the Govenment’s new affordable childcare strategy, a pillar of last October’s budget, is finally stepping into gear.

The scheme, which starts to pay out on September 1st, and every two weeks thereafter, promised much more than it is set to deliver- at least as of yet - as a key element of the strategy, means-tested payments, have yet to come into play.

Nonetheless, it will help parents of under-threes make a dent in the significant burden of childcare costs, although “affordable” it still isn’t.

It is expected that parents of up to 70,000 children will benefit from the scheme in the coming months, and it is the first time that a universal, non-means tested childcare subsidy has been introduced in Ireland, something which should be welcomed.

Moreover, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone is expected to look for an increase for the scheme in this year’s Budget, thereby either enhancing the benefits on offer or broadening its applicability, while the means -tested side of the scheme is expected to be rolled out in the new year.

So for now then, who will get it - and how much will they get?

What is it again?

Introduced in last October’s Budget, the Affordable Childcare Scheme is a new national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of their childcare. It’s an effort to cut the cost of childcare and bring Ireland into line with other European countries, where state sponsored schemes keep childcare costs in check. In Paris, France, for example, a family earning € 30,000 a year will pay € 264 a month, dropping to € 176 per child if you have three. The most you will pay is €513 a month, or €342 per child if you have three. In Berlin, Germany, childcare costs are also low, with parents entering the scale at € 22,499, paying just €25 a month for full-time childcare. The maximum amount a parent will pay is € 405 a month.

There are two elements to the scheme; a “universal” subsidy of up to € 80 a month (€ 1,040 a year) which every parent of a child aged between six and 36 months (up until the ECCE kicks in) will be entitled to, and a means-tested payment.

The universal payment is offered at the following weekly rates:

Full-time (5 hours or more): €20

Part-time (3:31 to 5 hours): €10

Sessional (2:16 to 3:30 hours): €7

Half-sessional (one to 2:15 hours): €3.50

What about the means-tested payment?

At the time of last October’s budget announcement, the Government also indicated that the universal subsidy would be accompanied by a targeted means-tested payment aimed at low income families with children up to the age of 15. This would replace four existing targeted childcare schemes.

The subsidy ranged from € 5.38 an hour for a baby under one year of age to € 3.96 an hour for a child in school. It would mean that a family with a gross income of € 30,000 and two children, aged two and four, one of whom is in creche full-time and the other requiring 25 hours “wraparound” care for the early childhood care and education (ECCE) scheme, would have a shortfall of just € 32 a month.

A family with a gross income of € 50,000 would have a shortfall of € 484, while those with a gross income of € 70,000 or more would be entitled to just the universal subsidy. Familes with three children and gross income of up to €80,000 could benefit from the scheme.

As part of this scheme, a new IT system is to be developed which will enable parents simply to enter their PPS number and be told what they areeligible for.

However this part of the programme has now been postponed until the new year, Ms Zappone has previously indicated. Ms Zappone has also commissioned a review of childcare costs around the country, which may impact eligibility, with parents in Dublin for example, potentially entitled to more under the means-tested scheme.

In the meantime, supports available to families on lower incomes or who are returning to work or training have been enhanced. Crucially however, these are only available to parents who have been previously means-tested for another purpose, such as social welfare payments, Family Income Supplement, or the GP card for a child over six. This means that parents - an estimated 9,000 - who would have qualified under the new means-tested scheme - and this could be a gross income of up to about €80,000, won’t be entitled to a subsidy - apart from the universal one - for now.

Amendments to the existing Community Childcare Subvention (CCS/CCSP) eligibility criteria will help ensure more families to benefit from more affordable childcare, while there will be increases of up to 50 per cent in childcare subvention rates provided under CCS/CCSP, which can amount to € 7,500 per child per year for children up to 15 years of age. (For more information see here).

Who benefits?

For now, the scheme will be of most benefit to parents of children - most likely in creches - up to the age of three. For a child in full-time care, the subsidy will work out as a month’s free childcare, which will certainly be welcome to hard-pressed parents.

The enhanced supports will only be available to those families already availing of such benefits.

Who doesn’t?

If your child/ren is in full-time care and meets the age requirements but is minded by a childminder or family member that is not registered with Tusla, then you won’t be entitled to the subsidy.

Moreover, if your child is already benefiting from the early years (ECCE) free childcare programme, unless their income meets the appropriate thresholds, they won’t benefit from the new universal payment.

How do I apply for the scheme?

Registration for the scheme commenced on August 21st. To apply, you need to furnish your childcare provider with your PPS number, your child’s date of birth, and your child’s PPS number.

The subsidy is paid directly to your childcare provider, which means that the cost of your weekly/monthly bill should drop. Of course some fear that childcare providers may take the opportunity of the subsidy to raise their prices, which would cancel out any benefit to parents.