Childcare package in budget will not activate until September 2016

Measures aimed at hard-pressed working families will offer little relief to many parents of pre-school children

From September 2016, the free access to pre-school will be widened to cover all children between the ages of three and five and a half years of age, who are not already in primary school. They will also be able to enrol not just in September but also in January and April of any given year.

From September 2016, the free access to pre-school will be widened to cover all children between the ages of three and five and a half years of age, who are not already in primary school. They will also be able to enrol not just in September but also in January and April of any given year.

 

Childcare was the dominant issue for readers in the wake of the 2016 Budget presentation, specifically the new pre-school care measures.

Hard-pressed parents were looking for details of the expanded Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme which, Minister Brendan Howlin said would operate “from now on”. He said the improvement in public finances “has given us the opportunity to assist hard working parents”.

However, it emerged Wednesday that the new arrangements will only kick in from September 2016, effectively excluding many parents already in the scheme, who have already availed of their one year free entitlement under current rules..

Readers were nonplussed by Mr Howlin’s characterisation of the childcare package as being designed to “ease the burden on working families”.

At present, children are entitled to free pre-school education once they have reached three years and two months by the start of September. They can continue to benefit until they reach the age of four years and seven months.

Effectively this means they can avail of one year’s free pre-school care.

From September 2016, the free access to pre-school will be widened to cover all children between the ages of three and five and a half years of age, who are not already in primary school. They will also be able to enrol not just in September but also in January and April of any given year.

Parents and grandparents inquiring about the childcare package were among hundreds of readers who contacted The Irish Times’s online Q&A seeking detail on measures announced Tuesday by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

Another childcare issue that drew significant interest was the introduction of statutory paternity leave of two weeks – a measure that will also kick in next September.

A number of aspiring fathers wanted to know whether they would be able to avail of the €230 per week payment following the impending arrival of their children. However, as currently envisaged, it will apply only to fathers of children born after September 1st, 2016.

Fathers will be able to take the two weeks’ leave at any time in the 28 weeks following the birth of their child.

Changes to the Universal Social Charge also featured strongly in the questions from readers, with many struggling to calculate exactly how the new, lower 1, 3 and 5.5 per cent rates it would impact on them financially.

The decision to move from an annual stamp duty levy on credit and debit cards to a 12 cent per transaction arrangement puzzled some readers, with uncertainty over whether the charge is just on withdrawals of cash from ATMs, or also on in store cash-back transactions. Pensioners currently availing of free banking wondered if they would be subject to the charge which will not, in any event, exceed the amount previously levied annually per card.

The hopes of public sector workers were raised by the announcement from Mr Noonan that the pension levy would not continue beyond the end of this year. However, the levy to which the Minister was referring was the 0.15 per cent charge on private sector pension funds, much to the frustration of a number of readers still chafing over the pension measures affecting the public service which were introduced under austerity.

Inheritance tax threshold adjustments for parents leaving assets to children and the introduction of a lower capital gains tax rate for business owners selling all or part of their businesses were among other issues of interest to readers.