The DCYA-led Temporary Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (TWSCS) was launched on 15 April as a unique, sector specific response to the COVID-19 crisis. While the scheme was being developed, preliminary payments were paid in advance to providers to enable them to retain their staff and cover some overhead costs. These preliminary payments were primarily based on pre-covid staffing levels. It emerged subsequently that such staffing levels were not maintained by some providers and this has resulted in excess funding.
A letter was issued to providers by Pobal on 16 September informing of their overpayment status and set out how proposed recoupment of the excess funding will take place.
The TWSCS rules made clear the purposes for which this sector specific funding was intended for. Excess funding provided was required to be returned to the Exchequer at the earliest opportunity. Many services will therefore still have the excess amount in their accounts and be in a position to repay it when requested. Some providers have expressed a wish to return the excess funding immediately and structures are in place to facilitate this.
My Department, in recognition of pressures the providers are facing in trying to safely reopen have allowed a “grace” period by delaying the recoupment process until November. This will give providers an opportunity to manage their cashflow requirements in the coming weeks.
My Department has worked closely with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and it is not possible from an Exchequer perspective to extend repayment into another financial year, except of course in exceptional circumstances as discussed below.
It is acknowledged that some providers may require special or alternative arrangements due to ongoing cashflow difficulties. My Department is prepared to be flexible in supporting providers who may struggle with recoupment and Pobal will be available to work closely with these providers.
If a provider continues to experience ongoing viability issues, my Department has recently launched a new Sustainability Fund. This will assist providers (not-for-profit and for-profit) struggling with an imminent threat to the viability of their service arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic. In the meantime my Department encourages providers seeking further advice and support to contact their City/ County Childcare Committee in the first instance.
It is worth noting that in 2020, it is estimated that an additional €180m, above and beyond the childcare budget, will have been invested in the sector. Also, for the first 3 months of 2021 alone, the EWSS will be worth €63m to providers, again on top of their usual Departmental payments. Intensive and very successful efforts have been made by the Department to boost the income of providers in recent years with the 141% increase in investment in the sector. This has enabled services to grow from an average size of 33 places to 47, to access subsidies for twice the number of children as before, to access increased ECCE capitation payments, free CPD for staff, Programme Support Payments worth at least €19m per annum and extra capital investment, for example.
My Department remains committed to supporting services to provide accessible, affordable and high quality services to children and families.