For many families, childcare fees are one of the biggest household expenses.
But for the past three months, it’s been free.
The Federal Government introduced the free scheme in April, with the aim of keeping providers afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
But from Monday, parents will be paying again.
Here’s what you need to know.
So, what exactly will change on Monday?
If your kids are in childcare, you’ll start paying for it again and the Child Care Subsidy will be reintroduced.
The amount of subsidy you receive depends on your family’s income, the hourly rate cap you pay for child care and the hours of work, study or volunteer work you do (called ‘recognised activities’).
But from Monday, the Government will loosen the criteria for ‘recognised activities’ for families whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19.
Those families will receive up to 100 hours per fortnight of subsidised care until October 4.
What if I can’t afford to pay the fees?
If you’ve lost your job, lost your income, been adversely affected by the bushfires or COVID-19, you might be eligible to apply for financial hardship through the Additional Child Care Subsidy.
If you’re eligible, you won’t have to meet the activity test and in most cases the full cost of child care will be covered.
The subsidy is paid for a maximum of 13 weeks.
Nesha Hutchinson from the Australian Childcare Alliance says it’s easy to apply.
“If you are in a particular postcode, be it bushfire-affected or flood-affected, drought-affected or lockdown-affected, families in that postcode won’t have to jump through so many hoops when dealing with Services Australia to justify their income and working hours,” she said.
“They can basically say, ‘We are in the following postcode, so we want the additional child care subsidy’.”
Can I ask my childcare provider for a discount?
Yes, you can ask.
But they may not say yes in reply, Ms Hutchinson said.
“Some services are in a position where they are able to change things and make allowances, some aren’t,” she said.
“The financial viability in early childhood has been eroded significantly in the past 20 years … we’ve got a lot of providers going to the wall.”
JobKeeper for the sector will be withdrawn from July 20 but to help providers transition back to fees, the Federal Government will pay 25 per cent of their fee revenue until the end of September.
What if I’m in a locked-down area?
If you’re in locked-down areas of Melbourne (and the Shire of Mitchell) you won’t have to pay if you choose to keep your children home from care for COVID-19-related reasons.
Operators will still receive subsidies for enrolled children and will be allowed to waive the gap fee charged to parents.
Have there been any changes to absences?
Another big change is that parents won’t necessarily have to pay for childcare every time their kid is absent.
“Until now, if a family were absent, we weren’t allowed to waive the gap fees — that’s the difference between what we charge and the subsidy,” Ms Hutchinson said.
“If they’re away, the Government will continue to pay the subsidy to hold the spot, but the family aren’t going to be out of pocket.”
Families will be entitled to 42 absence days per child, per financial year. They can be used for public holidays too.
But it’s not clear whether all childcare services will stop charging fees for those days.
What do I need to do to prepare for Monday’s changes?
If you’re new to childcare, you’ll have to apply through MyGov.
But if you were getting the Child Care Subsidy before April 6, it will automatically start again (if you’re enrolled and still eligible).
To be eligible:
- Give Services Australia your 2020-21 family income estimate
- Confirm your income for the last financial year, if you haven’t already
- Check your activity hours are still correct
- Make sure your child is immunised
- Check your child’s enrolment with your childcare service
Disclaimer: This is general advice only, if you need specific advice please see a professional.