I propose to take Questions Nos. 191, 192 and 201 together.
Government decided on 6 January that, in order to reduce movement in the population, the ECCE programme would not resume until 1 February. It has now been agreed that the programme will remain suspended during extended restrictions up to 5 March. Other Early Learning and Childcare and School-Age Childcare services (ELC/SAC services) can remain open on a restricted basis, to offer services to the children of essential workers and to vulnerable children only.
ELC and SAC services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. While service providers are contracted by the Department to provide services at a subsidised rate to parents, they are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees and contract conditions.
My Department is aware that many providers have already chosen to refund, waive or credit fees for families not currently using early learning and childcare services and I welcome this.
To further encourage and support providers (some of whom may have a higher reliance on fees), my Department has restructured the provision of funding during the February 1 to March 5 period into standard and enhanced funding with certain conditions for services who opt to avail of enhanced funding.
Where a provider has opted to avail of this enhanced funding, they are required to waive fees for children not attending, as well as retaining staff, keeping places for families and engaging with children who are not attending. This applies to both open and closed services.
If providers do not access the conditional funding, they may still request fees from parents.
Contract terms between providers and parents may stipulate specific obligations of both parties.
Providers have been asked to bear in mind that parents have a broad range of personal circumstances in these challenging times and to consider what arrangements (e.g. refunds or fee credits) can be made for parents who do not wish not to take up an ELC/SAC place at this time.
The DCEDIY acknowledges that the relationship between a service and parent is a private one based on a contract between those two parties.
Providers will be able to confirm if they are receiving enhanced funding, and consequently, their fee arrangements. They will also be able to clarify refund or credit arrangements for any pre-paid fees.