Childcare glitches leave parents out-of-pocket
THE Federal Government appears to be in damage control as issues continue to plague its new childcare system.
The Turnbull Government's new system was supposed to benefit up to one million families but it seems many parents are struggling to get the extra money thanks to glitches and unexpected limitations to their claims.
This week childcare centres sent out a letter to parents detailing three main issues since the system launched on July 1. They include the Childcare Subsidy and the Additional Childcare Subsidy (child wellbeing) not being applied to eligible families. Those eligible for the 36 hours of kindergarten access were also not being identified.
Sydney mum Tanya, who has a four-year-old and toddler twins, said she had been charged full fees for the first month of the scheme being rolled out and was sent two fortnightly invoices for $2800 each.
"At first I ignored it and hoped it would go away," she said. "Then I got an email saying, 'Did you see the invoice?' I said, 'Yes' and that I was trying to figure out how to pay it.
"I was nearly $6000 in debt. I have never had a credit card before in my life but I rocked up to the bank and said, 'I need a quick personal loan until the CCS comes through'."
A week later Tanya, who works part-time and has a mortgage with her husband, was told the bank would not submit her application for a $6000 credit card as it would have been rejected.
"It was so stressful," she said. "They were saying it might not come in the next fortnight. It might take a couple of months. I would have had to stop work, simple as that - and take the kids out of early education."
Luckily, her subsidy has now been approved and her latest invoice was a more manageable $530 a fortnight.
However, another parent, who wished to remain anonymous, told news.com.au that she had received the subsidy for four weeks in July but then suddenly found she had been charged full price for the most recent fortnightly payment.
"I wasn't expecting this and had no prior warning of it," she said.
The full-time employee normally gets 50 per cent of her childcare costs paid for, but this time she found herself charged an extra $500 for her daughter's four days of care.
"It's a substantial amount of money to just come up with unexpectedly," she said.
"It will definitely impact our budget as we have other bills that need to be paid. For other families, if they are on a tight budget, it could mean they are late with their electricity or other bills."
It's also unclear how long it will take to get this money back.
She has been advised to check her MyGov account for a message, which she hasn't received, or to contact Centrelink.
But the Department of Human Services Facebook page is filled with complaints from people who say the information line is "permanently engaged".
"I've been trying to call all yesterday and now this morning to again chase up a childcare benefit claim I put in 18 weeks ago … yes 18 … and I continually get a line busy signal. This is ridiculous," one fed-up parent wrote.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham was forced to address the ongoing problems with the system last week, admitting there were isolated cases of some parents having to pay more because of technical problems.
He also acknowledged today that some parents were being charged more if their centre opens for longer hours, even if their children are not in care for those hours.
Parents can only get a subsidy for up to 100 hours of care per fortnight but are going over this because their centres open for longer than 10 hours a day. The subsidy is worked out according to how long the centre is open each day, not how many hours the child attends.
Mr Birmingham said many centres had varied their hours to be in line with eligible subsidies.
"I urge other centres to absolutely follow suit," he told ABC Radio Darwin.
"I would also urge you (parents) to speak to your childcare centre about the fact that they are slugging for a very long day session, 11 or 12 hours, where very few children, if any, are likely to actually be in attendance for that length of time."
On Friday, AAP revealed some parents were out of pocket more than $400 a week because of technical problems with transitions to the new subsidy, while some centres were wearing the additional cost themselves.
Technical issues between two of 16 third-party software systems and the government's new funding system were understood to be to blame for the issue, affecting an unknown number of families.
Senator Birmingham confirmed on Monday there were isolated cases being worked on by Department of Human Services and Centrelink staff following "a change of gargantuan proportion".
"Our understanding is that there are - if any - very few unresolved issues," he said.
More than a million families have successfully transitioned to the new system.
"But if you happen to have had a hiccup along the way, we want to make sure that you get the help to ensure that it's a smooth process for you from here on in," Senator Birmingham said.
- with AAP