I propose to take Questions Nos. 989 to 991, inclusive, together.
I am aware of the distress and inconvenience caused by delays in the processing of ECCE Higher Capitation applications, and my Department has taken action to provide additional preliminary payments to affected services in order to minimise the negative impacts. Officials in my Department are also working with Pobal to ensure that outstanding applications are processed as fast as possible and to remedy the causes of the delays.
In addition, officials in my Department are in the process of finalising a Focused Policy Assessment of the ECCE Higher Capitation payments, which includes analysis of administrative procedures used in the processing of applications. It is hoped that this report, once finalised, will inform decisions on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Higher Capitation payments.
While I must stress that the delays in the payments are not acceptable, it is important to note that part of the reason for the delays is the large and rising volume of applications, linked to the rising number of graduates working in the sector, which is a reflection of the success of the Higher Capitation payments in supporting the professionalization of the early learning and care workforce. The proportion of ECCE services receiving Higher Capitation payments rose from 20% of services in the 2012-13 programme year to 53% of services in 2018-19. The number of applications has increased significantly in recent years, from 1,562 in 2015-16 to 2,785 in 2018-19. At the same time the proportion of applications approved rose from 83% to 97%. The number of applications approved therefore more than doubled in this 3-year period, from 1,301 in 2015-16 to 2,693 in 2018-19.
So far (as of 4th November) in the 2019-20 programme year, Pobal have received 2,299 applications, of which 790 have been approved and 2 declined. Of the applications that have not yet been approved or declined, Pobal is actively engaging with a large number of services in relation to their applications. The number of applications is expected to continue rising over the coming months.
A significant administrative reform took place in mid-2018, with the transfer of administration of the Higher Capitation from my Department to Pobal, thus completing the transitioning of administration of the ECCE programme to Pobal, and enabling early learning and care providers to conduct all business relating to the ECCE programme with one agent.
On 19th August 2019, Pobal issued an announcement to services through the PIP system informing them of the Higher Capitation application timelines for the 2019-20 programme year. Regrettably these timelines resulted in a start date which was later than had been indicated the previous year and was due to a combination of resourcing issues and a delay in closing off the 2018/2019 programme year. I understand the frustration the timelines and delays have caused.
Pobal officials began processing applications for the programme year 2019/2020 in October 2019, in line with the announced schedule. Pobal is currently processing a large volume of applications, and is working to approve applications and release funding as soon as possible.
Considering the significant pressure on services, my Department has made the decision that early learning and care providers whose applications have not yet been processed and who were also in receipt of the first preliminary payment on 23rd August 2019, would receive an additional preliminary payment on 1st November 2019. This payment was for a four-week period that will take early learning and care providers to 20th October 2019. The payment was based on a child’s Full Time Equivalent (FTE) numbers for the week ending 18th November 2019 using the max FTE cap for services which were approved for Higher Capitation last year.
A further preliminary payment will be made on 8th November 2019 for any early learning and care service providers whose application has still not been processed at that stage. This payment will be for a four week period that will take early learning and care service providers to the 22nd November 2019. Early learning and care service providers who had not previously been approved for the Higher Capitation rate but have submitted an application for the 2019/2020 programme year, that has not been processed, received a preliminary payment on 29th October 2019. This payment was for an eight week period. An additional preliminary payment will also be made to these services on 8th November and this payment will be for a four week period.
For any Higher Capitation application or payment queries, service providers are recommended to contact firstname.lastname@example.org who are best placed to advise on these matters.