Minister Zappone launches Consultation on new Affordable Childcare Scheme

On Friday 28th October 2016 Minister Zappone published a policy paper on the new Affordable Childcare Scheme for Ireland and launched an online consultation process on the scheme.

The scheme, which was announced as part of Budget 2017, aims to make childcare more affordable and accessible for families, by providing universal subsidies for all children under 3 and targeted subsidies, based on net parental income, for children up to 15 years. The policy paper published today provides detail on the scheme and can be accessed here.

The Minister is launching a consultation on the detail of the new scheme. She invites everyone- parents, other family members, childcare providers, childminders, advocacy groups and anyone interested in the issues- to share their views. This feedback will then be used to refine specific design features of the new scheme to be introduced in September 2017, as well as informing future policy development. The online consultation can be accessed here. or you can contact the Department of Children and Youth Affairs if you would like a paper copy posted out to you.

The consultation builds on a previous consultation held in April/ May 2015 on priorities for Government investment in childcare. This earlier consultation informed the 2015 Report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group: Future Investment in Childcare in Ireland and also the Policy Paper on the Affordable Childcare Scheme..

The Affordable Childcare Scheme is a new national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of their childcare. It will replace the existing targeted childcare subsidisation schemes with a single, streamlined and more user-friendly scheme.

The new scheme will provide a system from which both universal and targeted subsidies can be provided towards the cost of childcare.

Targeted Subsidies: In the case of targeted subsidies, these will be payable for children from 6 months of age up to 15 years of age. The level of subsidy will depend on a family’s net income. On its introduction in September 2017, the scheme will provide the maximum rate of subsidy for parents with net incomes up to €22,700 per annum. The rate of subsidy will taper downwards as net income rises, with no income related subsidy payable when net income reaches €47,500. The income thresholds increase where there is more than one child in a family, so a family with two children under 15 years of age would have a maximum net income threshold of €51,300 and a family with three children under 15 years would have a maximum net income threshold of €55,100. The maximum subsidy per hour will depend on the age of the child and the net income of the parents but will range from €5.38 for a baby under 12 months to €3.96 for a school age child.

Universal Subsidies: Budget 2017 enables a universal subsidy to be payable for children between the ages of 6 and 36 months (or until the child qualifies for the free pre-school programme if later) who are availing of childcare by a Tusla registered childcare service, including a Tusla registered childminder. The universal subsidy will not be means-tested and will be available for families at any income level. It provides up to €80 per month for a maximum 40 hours per week and will be paid pro-rate based on hours used.

The Affordable Childcare Scheme will also create a flexible platform for future investment in childcare funding supports, allowing net income thresholds to be adjusted and subsidies to be expanded to more children and families over time.

Finally, the Affordable Childcare Scheme is intended to deliver the following benefits:
• Contribute to the reduction of child poverty.
• Enhance affordability, providing both universal and targeted subsidies for parents towards their childcare costs.
• Be more user-friendly than existing targeted schemes for both parents and childcare providers, enabling online applications for subsidies.
• Encourage labour market activation, through shifting the focus which has existed historically on linking childcare subsidisation to eligibility for social welfare benefits and medical card entitlement to income.
• Facilitate parental choice and improve access to affordable childcare through being open to all childcare providers registered with Tusla, including registered childminders.
• Provide a flexible platform for sustained investment in childcare in future years so that affordability can be further strengthened, while also providing a basis for quality improvements through supply-side funding of childcare services.