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20 free hours ECE scheme Information

Please note that this page is about the 20 Hours Free Scheme. You may also like to read about the Working for Families Childcare Subsidy.

Why is Free ECE available for up to 20 hours a week and up to 6 hours a day?

20 hours a week Free ECE has been made available to encourage intensive participation in quality ECE. Children don't benefit from quality ECE if their participation is not intensive enough to create positive education outcomes. New Zealand has high ECE participation rates but children attend for relatively few hours per week, at around 14-17 hours per week for 3 and 4 year olds. The majority of children are attending for 9 hours or fewer per week.

6 hours a day is to match the government's current ECE funding subsidy. Free ECE is being implemented with as little change to existing funding systems as possible, and to make it easier for services to manage. The effect of the 6 hour per day limit will be monitored and the limit will be reviewed after implementation.

How do parents find out what services are offering Free ECE?

Teacher-led services are eligible to offer Free ECE. Some kohanga reo will also be eligible.

It will be up to individual services to decide whether to offer Free ECE - parents need to contact services directly to discuss enrolment and Free ECE.

To find teacher-led services in your area, visit the Team Up website:

What is a teacher-led service?

A teacher-led service is one where one or more ECE qualified and registered teachers are responsible for the overall programme in the service. A qualified teacher would usually have a Diploma of Teaching in ECE or an equivalent qualification. They might be known as early learning centres, kindergartens, home-based education and care, childcare or day-care centres, or pre-school.

Is Free ECE income tested?

No. Free ECE will be available to any three or four year old who is enrolled in a teacher-led early childhood service that is offering Free ECE, regardless of their parents' income, ethnicity, work status, or any other factor.

What will happen to my fees?

Services must not charge fees for the hours that they provide Free ECE, but may set fees for hours outside of Free ECE. You should see a substantial reduction in your fees under Free ECE, and the size of this reduction will depend on what the service decides about their fees, and on the amount of hours your child is participating

Will the current Work and Income Childcare Subsidy continue to be paid to parents after 1 July 2007 if parents are accessing Free ECE?

The current Childcare Subsidy available from Work and Income will continue for parents accessing Free ECE after 1 July 2007. Parents will be eligible for up to 50 hours of the Childcare Subsidy, minus any Free ECE hours they have accessed. For example if you access 20 hours Free ECE per week, you may be eligible for up to 30 hours of Childcare Subsidy.

Will the ministry provide funding for administration costs?

The rates will not be split up into specific costs. Costs reported by services in the Operating Cost Survey will flow through to the rates, and these will include administrative costs.

Do services need to change how they make decisions about who to enrol in order to offer Free ECE?

No, the ministry does not interfere in services' enrolment policies.

What is an optional charge?

An optional charge is a request for additional services that a service may ask for from parents. Parents can choose whether or not to pay depending on whether they want. It can only be requested in regards to aspects that are not required by regulation, or things that parents could choose to provide for themselves (eg food).

Why have optional charges?

Parents can not be required to pay compulsory fees for Free ECE, but government funding for Free ECE is aimed at funding the average cost of providing the regulated standard. The ministry envisages that optional charges will enable parents to access Free ECE and have additional services, and to allow services to request additional payment for parts of their service that are more than what is required by regulation.

Do optional charges need to be approved by the ministry?

Services can set their own optional charges, and its good practice to talk with parents and check their willingness to pay. The ministry will only become involved if a parent is charge fees for Free ECE, or if parents are compelled to pay optional charges.

What can I do if parents do not want to pay optional charges?

Optional charges are not compulsory for services to implement, but if services choose to use them they need to be aware that an optional charge must be a voluntary payment for an extra service that parents must be able to choose whether or not to receive without penalty.

Can we charge an enrolment fee?

You cannot charge any fee as a condition of access to Free ECE.

How will Free ECE affect the way a service currently accounts for absent children?

When a casual child is replacing an absent child who is receiving Free ECE, the service may not charge fees for the casual enrolment. (Or the service could charge a fee and claim the ECE Funding Subsidy for the absent child).

What happens if there aren't enough places for children whose parents want to enrol them and benefit from Free ECE?

Currently there is space in ECE services in most communities around the country. If Free ECE is very successful then capacity of ECE services may be tested in some areas. Over time the government expects that more places for Free ECE will become available as more services open. The government expects that services will respond to demand for extra provision in most areas, but in areas where lack of services is stopping many children from participating the government provides funding for community groups to set up new services. This funding is limited to $14.45 million per annum.

Information courtesy of the Ministry of Education