It is important to note that the matter of rates payments for the early learning and care sector does not fall under the remit of my Department, nor does my Department have a role in determining which properties are rateable. The levying of commercial rates is the responsibility of the Valuations Office, which falls under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The Valuation Act, 2001 as amended by the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2015 provides that all buildings used or developed for any purpose, including constructions affixed thereto, are rateable unless expressly exempted under Schedule 4 of the Act. Under Schedule 4, paragraph 22, community childcare facilities are exempt from commercial rates, by virtue of the fact that they operate on a not-for-profit basis. The Valuations Office have also advised that, under Schedule 4 paragraph 10, facilities who provide the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) only are exempt from commercial rates. All other childcare providers are, therefore, rateable.
My Department has made considerable investment in the provision of affordable and accessible quality childcare, and I am conscious that the issue of commercial rates may be a barrier to achieving these goals.
I am also conscious of this issue in the context of the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), the new, national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of childcare, in October 2019. If an ECCE-only service wishes to offer NCS it will become liable for commercial rates. This disincentivisation to provide wraparound services has the potential to create capacity issues within the sector, at a time when my Department is seeking to increase capacity.
The issue of commercial rates is one that has been raised by the early learning and care sector, in particular through the National Early Years Forum, which I established in 2016. My Department has therefore taken a number of steps to pursue this matter, including meeting with relevant officials to explore the possibility of obtaining an exemption of the application of commercial rates to private childcare providers, on the basis that they are educational facilities.
Most recently I contacted the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, requesting reconsideration of the position of private childcare facilities in respect of their rateability for commercial rates. It was confirmed that there are no proposals under consideration for a discount of commercial rates for private childcare providers, and that the Commissioner of Valuation has no discretionary latitude to grant exemptions not covered by Schedule 4 of the Act.
My Department and I have made every effort to raise the concerns of the early learning and care sector in this respect, however as the matter falls outside the remit of my Department, I am constrained in the role I can play. My Department will, however, continue to monitor this matter and raise it where appropriate.