20-hours Free ECE came into effect in 2007. Children aged 3 and 4 are funded by government at a higher rate for centres offering “20 Hours ECE”, but only for up to 6 hours per day and a maximum of 20 hours per week. Services are unable to charge for these funded hours, but there are two loopholes in the scheme that are available for services to exploit.
First, they can set a minimum number of hours of attendance. So to get 20 free hours a parent may have to sign up for 21, 25, 30 or more hours a week and pay for the hours over 20 whether used or not.
Secondly, services are permitted to set an “optional charge”. It may be as low as a couple of extra dollars a week or up to $80 or more. The optional charge should be for the cost of extras above the normal things involved in providing childcare and education, such as sunscreen, clothing items such as sun hats and food.
We believe in being transparent in what’s going on in terms of what the government pays for and what it doesn’t. Rather than say to parents that the 20 hours are free and then charge you a ridiculous amount for the seventh hour you’re forced to enrol your child for, we’re fairer about it. We don’t make you enrol your child for more hours than you need, and we don’t have ‘optional’ charges.