Can I claim the government's latest childcare subsidy? Here's everything you need to know
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Find out if you're entitled to any extra support with childcare costs with this quick and simple Q&A.
This is an exciting year for childcare in Ireland. With the general cost of living increasing, the reduction in childcare bills through the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) is a welcome relief for many families this year. There are now over 115,000 children benefiting from the NCS, an increase of more than 100% since last year.
The NCS provides financial support to help with families’ childcare costs. If you have children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years of age, you can receive two types of NCS subsidy:
- A universal subsidy: This is open to applicants of all income levels. It is not means tested
- An income-assessed subsidy: This is open to all households with an income of €60,000 or less after tax. There are additional income allowances for larger families
Under the NCS universal subsidy, €1.40 per hour of childcare is available to parents using a registered childcare service. If you are eligible for the income-assessed subsidy, you can receive a higher childcare subsidy of between €1.40 to €5.10 per hour depending on your household income and the age of your child. Work is also underway to open up the NCS so that childminders who care for children in the childminder’s home can offer the scheme from 2024. Given the extent of these supports, it really is worth checking that you are making the most of the NCS.
To help you to avail of the NCS, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
How do you get the subsidy?
The fastest way to apply is online at www.ncs.gov.ie with your Public Services Card. If you need to make a paper application, you can ring the NCS Parent Support Centre at 01 906 8530, 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday and a form will be posted to you.
How many hours can you get?
Everyone on the universal subsidy can get a subsidy for up to 45 hours per week, depending on how many hours you are using. Income-assessed subsidies start at 20 hours, going up to 45 hours once the parent, and their partner if they have one, are in work or study. You can easily check what this means for your household using the calculator.
How can you use the hours you get?
The scheme is very flexible in how you use the hours. For example, if you receive an award for 20 hours, you can use the subsidy for four half-day sessions (8am – 1pm) or you can use the same award for two full-day sessions (8am-6pm).
You can use the award in a way that best suits your family needs and the sessions your childcare provider is offering.
On registration, both you and the provider must confirm how many hours you will use. When confirmed to the scheme’s administration, the payment goes directly to the provider.
If you only receive the subsidy for hours you use, what happens if your child is sick, or you pick them up early?
Family life happens! There will be occasions where your child’s attendance is less than your subsidised hours. This could be due to illness, appointments, early collections and late drop-offs. For example, picking your child up early every now and then has no effect on your subsidy. Missing a day due to illness every now and then or taking two weeks' holiday won’t affect your subsidy either.
Subsidies will only be reduced if your child is continuously absent from a service, or not using the agreed hours for a prolonged period. Continuously absent means four weeks or more (with some exceptions for prolonged illness and certain other exceptional events).
Not using agreed hours for a prolonged period means not using the hours you agreed for every week for 8 weeks or more. Then, the provider will get a warning to correct the registration within four weeks. This is to ensure that public money is used to pay for the actual care of children. If the hours used don’t return to those registered within this time period, after 12 weeks your payment will be changed to reflect your actual usage.
What if the hours you need change?
If you need more hours at certain times – e.g. if your child attends the ECCE programme or school, but you need full-time hours for pre-school or school holidays – then you can claim for more hours at these times. Talk to your provider, local City and County Childcare Committee (CCC) or Pobal Parents Centre about your needs when registering your child.
What if your provider does not offer the sessions you need?
Childcare providers are private businesses and are free to decide the session types and hours they offer. If your chosen provider doesn’t offer sessions that suit you, contact your local CCC who can offer advice.
If you want to use a childminder?
Providers must be registered with Tusla to offer the NCS. Currently, very few childminders are able to register with Tusla. However, work is underway to make the NCS accessible in the future to many more childminders who care for children in the childminder’s home.
What if my provider puts up fees, will the value of the discount be gone?
More than 94% of childcare providers have committed to freeze their fees at 2021 rates, as part of the Government’s new funding model 'Together for Better’. Check if your provider has signed up here.
Where can you find out more?
Visit www.ncs.gov.ie to make an application.
To find out about fees charged by providers you can use the childcare search function on the NCS website here.
If you want support with your NCS application, you can call the NCS Parent Support Centre at 01 906 8530, 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Attending Bord Bia Bloom this year? Come visit the First 5 Garden of Wonder and Discovery promoting outdoor play and talk to us about childcare at the National Childcare Scheme tent in the Budding Bloomers area.
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