Update on support package for childcare including Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme

Senior officials from the Department of Education attended the meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Education Committee on Wednesday 5 June, to provide an update on the £25 million package of support announced by the Education Minister Paul Givan in May.

Following a welcome and introduction from Committee Chair, Nick Mathison, MLA, Paul Brush from the Department of Education gave an outline of the key elements of support announced within the package. He indicated that, due to the small size of the team within the department, work on the development of the long-term Early Learning and Childcare Strategy will pause while officials work on progressing these short-term measures. He expressed optimism that the work being done now would, however, be beneficial in informing the development of the longer-term strategy. While he acknowledged that the timescale to have some of the support measures in place for September is tight, the Department is confident that these can be delivered as outlined.

In response to questions from MLAs, Paul Brush and his Department of Education colleague Tina Dempster provided the following updates:

Northern Ireland Childcare Subsidy Scheme

  • Work is ongoing on the design of the scheme and officials are meeting regularly with representative bodies and parents’ groups to secure their input
  • Eligibility of the scheme is for parents of children below school age and is tied to parents being eligible for and using Tax-Free Childcare
  • Confirmed that parents would not be liable for tax or National Insurance Contributions on the top up payments and that this will not create any tax liability for childcare providers
  • It is hoped that by linking the increased subsidy to Tax-Free Childcare, it will encourage more parents to use Tax-Free Childcare and, in some cases, move away from using unregistered childcare provision
  • It is not yet clear if parents who use Childcare Vouchers will be eligible for support through the scheme due to issues around diffident eligibility criteria.

This is an area Employers For Childcare will be engaging with officials on urgently as it is critical that parents who use Childcare Vouchers are not excluded from this support.

Emergency support for childcare providers

  • This will include childminders and will require an application process.
  • Officials are working with Invest NI and colleagues from the Department for the Economy to progress the design of this support scheme.

Standardisation of pre-school to 22.5 hours

  • A pilot has been completed which demonstrated that most pre-school settings will need to do work to transition to being ready to deliver 22.5 hours per week
  • Commitment was reiterated that 2,200 places would be ready for September 2025
  • RSM report previously commissioned by the Department has not yet been considered by the Minister but expectation is that it will be published, and will provide a roadmap for the development of the sector.

Data collection exercise

  • This will have two aspects – data collection from childcare providers and a survey of parents This will be conducted by NISRA and will include questions around the barriers and perceived barriers to accessing childcare and what would support parents to re-enter or further engage with the labour market
  • The questions will start to be developed over the summer with the survey planned to go into the field in November/December.

FAQs document

  • Paul Brush indicated that the Department is working on an FAQs document, as a key method of keeping all stakeholders informed of progress as they develop the various aspects of the support package. A first draft is to be ready in the next few weeks. He suggested that, by providing this, it will allow the team to focus on delivery, rather than providing individual updates to stakeholders as work progresses.

Monitoring progress

Employers For Childcare will be liaising closely with officials from the Department of Education as work progresses towards implementation of the measures announced by the Minister. We will provide further updates as information becomes available.