The new National Childcare Scheme is coming into effect in October – here is everything you need to know 3 months ago

The new National Childcare Scheme is coming into effect in October – here is everything you need to know

It was announced way back in Budget 201, but the brand new National Childcare Scheme (NCS) is only due to kick into effect from Tuesday, October 29th this year.

The new scheme, which has been over three years in the making, marks a big change in how childcare fee subsidies are handled and divided, with one of the biggest changes, perhaps, being that now it is up to parents themselves to apply for the subsidies.

Prior to this change, if was up to the childcare provider to enter all the parents’ details to get them the subsidy, but once the NCS kicks in, the money will still go to the childcare provider, but it will be up the parents themselve to fill in the application and have it approved. This will then generate an unique code for each family that will have to be passed onto the childcare provider, be it a creche or a registered childminder, who will enter it into the system, and who will then discount parents’ fees according to the hourly subsidy granted.

National Childcare Scheme

The new National Childcare Scheme – 10 things everyone need to know

The National Childcare Scheme's aim is to provide financial support for parents towards the cost of childcare. It will provide a system from which both universal and targeted subsidies can be provided towards the cost of childcare, and will include “wraparound‟ care for pre-school and school-age children. Here are some of the most important questions and answers about how the new scheme will work, who can apply and what families can expect:

Who can apply?

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS)  is available for children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years.

At present, only families where at least one parent already has a Public Services Card (PSC) will be able to proceed with the online application come October. However, a PSC is not required for paper-based applications by post, but at the time of writing these will not be accepted until after January 1st, 2020.

Does the new NCS affect the present ECCE scheme?

The new scheme is intended to replace all the other existing childcare schemes except for the two free years of pre-school, which will continue to run separately under the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE).

What about any other childcare scheme currently in place?

All the other existing childcare schemes (apart from the ECCE scheme) will be discontinued or phased out once the new NCS is rolled out. Some of these existing programmes will continue to run in parallel with the NCS until at least the end of August 2020, according to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. This will however only apply to those who are already on these schemes before the start of the NCS this October.

Are there different types of subsidies?

There will be two different subsidies in place.

Universal Subsidies are available to all families with children under three years old. They are also available to families with children over three years who have not yet qualified for the free preschool programme (ECCE). This subsidy is not means tested and provides 50c per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place for up to a maximum of 40 hours per week.

Income Assessed Subsidies are available to families with children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years. This subsidy is means tested and will be calculated based on your individual circumstances. Your rate will vary depending on your level of family income, your child’s age and educational stage, and the number of children in your family.

Is there a difference in how the NCS works for creches and childminders?

For the NCS to apply, a childcare provider must have signed an NCS contract and be registered with the Child and Family Agency, Tusla.

This means that for parents using unregistered childminders, relatives, live-in nannies or stay home to look after their own children, the scheme will not apply, and there will be no financial relief in place as part of the new NCS.

What will determine the level of subsidy one family will receive?

Many factors will help determine how much subsidies a family is entitled to, including the child's age, family income and education stage.

The universal subsidy, regardless of parents’ income, for all children under three, or not yet qualified for ECCE, will continue to reduce creche fees by just 50 cent an hour up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. However, once your family’s “reckonable” income is under €60,000 per annum other permutations and sliding scales come into play for an income-assessed subsidy, which is available for children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years.

The hourly subsidy rate refers to the amount your provider will deduct from what they charge per hour, and will depend on your family's reckonable income.

In determining your reckonable income, you start with your household net income and can then make further deductions including a multiple child discount, which is €4,300 for families with two children under 15 or €8,600 for families with three or more children under 15. Other deductions include pension contributions, maintenance payments for another child or former spouse, and various social protection payments.

If you are filling our your NCS application online a subsidy calculator will be available to work out what your entitlement might be. Note that those already on a childcare support programme can then decide whether to stick with that for the time being or apply for a NCS subsidy.

National Childcare Scheme

What does 'wrap around' care mean?

The hours of childcare you’re entitled will also include time the child spends at pre-school or school, which is where the term 'wrap around' comes from.

Will vulnerable parents be better or worse off than before?

The new NCS is intented to be a more streamlined and user-friendly scheme, which will have a broader reach and help more families than any pre-exisiting schemes. However, the new scheme has also been met with some criticism and concern that for certain vulnerable families, they will end up worse off on the new NCS system than they were before, at least if certain adjustments aren't made when the scheme is rolled out.

However, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs points out that there are specific arrangements for vulnerable children and families to be sponsored by certain statutory bodies in order to avail of free or additional childcare. Those bodies are Tusla, the HSE, the Departments of Education and of Justice and local authorities.

Will childcare providers be allowed to increase fees – meaning families won't benefit financially from the NCS?

There is no formal guarantee that charges to individual creches and childminders can't change (i.e. increase), however the Department of Children and Youth Affairs say they will in time be appointing an expert group to lead the development of a new childcare funding model.

When will the subsidies come into place?

The subsidies provided by the new NCS will start in November, and while there will be no backdating according to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, those currently receiving a childcare support payment will continue to receive that until their NCS application is completed and approved.

Where can I find out more and get help with my application?

Parents eager to find out more, or want to be ready in time to fill out their application come October, can check out the website ncs.gov.ie for a guide and an even more extensive list of Parents’ FAQs.

You can also phone the Parent Support Centre on 01 906 8530, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, for further information.