Sydney mum Amrita thought she’d done all the right things.
The local child care centre where she sends her pre-schooler had told her to update her details with Centrelink in time for the new Child Care Subsidy, which was due to come into effect on July, 2. Like all families with children in child care, Amrita knew she had to update her income and usage details to ensure the rebate would be applied properly.
But, according to a frustrated Amrita, it seems there was no point in doing so.
“I got an email from the child care centre saying that I had to pay the full amount upfront, and that the rebate would be backdated. How do I even know that it will happen? They said there’s a glitch in the system, so now I have to pay $368 upfront. I can’t afford this. When I updated my details they assessed I would get 85 percent of a rebate, and now, nothing,” she told Mamamia.
Questioning why there was a push from the government for family details to be updated so urgently when the software and administrative capabilities were not in place, it is no comfort to Amrita that she is not alone in her experience. Since July, 2, technical difficulties in the application of the rebate have plagued child care centres around Australia. Increasingly, parents are slamming the rollout, expressing their frustration as delays in the overloaded system mean they are being asked to pay full fees with no rebate applied.
The situation has also proved challenging for child care centres who are dealing with irate parents, but cannot access the government software, which would enable them to more accurately bill parents.
Alys Gagnon, Executive Director at The Parenthood, an Australian advocacy group, told Mamamia the situation was grossly unfair on families:
“We are a week and a half into the new Childcare Subsidy and it’s fair to say that there is still an enormous amount of confusion amongst parents about what they are actually going to be required to pay and how much subsidy they will receive for childcare fees.
“This is extremely frustrating for mums and dads, especially when coupled with the fact that potentially thousands of families may face a prolonged delay in accessing the subsidy through no fault of their own but because the Government’s IT systems are not able to bear the load.
“Given that childcare fees are hitting $150 or more per day, asking parents to pay the full fee is an incredible financial burden. While offering back pay goes part of the way to alleviating that burden, many families will struggle to find the money upfront. It was entirely predictable that there would be confusion and delay around the transition and asking families to carry the burden of that is deeply unfair.
“When the Government announced the new subsidy, it promised it would be simpler and offer more support for families. At the current time, the Childcare Subsidy does neither of those things for far too many mums and dads out there.”
There has been significant backlash to the system and assessment delays on The Department of Human Services Facebook page.
Other comments include frustration about both the MyGov website and app constantly crashing and logging users out.
The Department of Human Services Facebook administrators have been responsive to most posts, suggesting people contact Centrelink by phone to sort out issues.
Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen, issued the following statement to Mamamia:
“Since late April the Department of Human Services has processed more than 1 million Child Care Subsidy assessments from families.
“Families who have come into the system for the first time, changed their enrolment or added a child need to complete an enrolment with their child care provider. Families may not be receiving the subsidy if their enrolment details are not correct or confirmed with the Department, families need to ask their child care provider to submit or resubmit their child’s enrolment details.
“Some child care providers charge parents in advance. Parents who had not completed their transition at the time of billing may not have had their child care subsidy reflected on the account issued by their child care provider.
“Families should speak to their child care providers to ensure this is updated and accurately reflected on their accounts. We fully expect child care providers will correct any out of pocket cost as quickly as possible but this really is a matter that providers need to discuss with parents.”
The Department also added the following as background to the situation:
“There is no ‘significant delay’ in processing assessments. Child Care Benefit entitlements were current until 1 July 2018. The new Child Care Subsidy was introduced on 2 July to replace this benefit, so there has been no gap in child care payments.
“Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate were previously paid to parents. The new Child Care Subsidy payment is paid directly to the child care provider. Families that still need to transition to the new Child Care Subsidy have until 23 September, and their payments will be backdated to 2 July.
“Families that are claiming the Child Care Subsidy for the first time can have their payments backdated up to 28 days before the day they submitted their claim.”