Government decided on 6 January that, in order to reduce movement in the population, the ECCE programme would be postponed. 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.
Essential workers are those that work in the list of essential services published on gov.ie. One parent who is an essential worker confers eligibility on the child to access a service. For the purposes of accessing early learning and childcare services, an essential worker may be working from home.
My Department is aware that many providers have chosen to refund, waive or credit fees for families not using an early learning and childcare services and I welcome this.
During the February 1 - March 5 period, to enable parental fees to be waived, along with other objectives, I have introduced revised and enhanced funding arrangements to support providers. Funding is now structured into standard funding and enhanced funding.
Where a provider has opted to avail of this enhanced funding, they are required to waive fees for children not attending. This applies to both open and closed services.
One element of the enhanced funding is the Covid Support Payment which is available for services that have a high degree of reliance on parental fees. This payment is subject to providers agreeing not to charge parents who don’t attend.
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 and I acknowledge 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.