Big Fat Smile added to the list of providers waiving gap fees in NSW as COVID-19 continues
Big Fat Smile became the latest in an ever growing list of early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers to waive the gap fees for families who choose not to send their children to care during the COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales late last week.
“At Big Fat Smile, our focus is on meeting the needs of all children and families, particularly those within the communities in which we operate,” a spokesperson said.
“We advocate strongly for our families when there are gaps in Government policy or current social or local issues. This advocacy is in line with our guiding vision to enrich the lives and minds of children and families in their communities. Since the commencement of the current COVID-19 outbreak across NSW resulting in lockdown orders, we have had a loud and robust voice advocating at both a State and Federal level for additional support and assistance for families accessing early education and care and out of school aged care services.”
The provider implemented gap fee waivers for non-attending children on 19 July 2021, absorbing the financial impact that this measure has on the organisation.
As well as undertaking to absorb the gap fees, the provider has been advocating for:
- increased allowable absences for children;
- a pause on the activity test;
- financial support for families through financial assistance (the financial hardship package; and,
- argued for prioritisation of ECEC educators in the vaccine queue.
“As an organisation, we have also argued for a business continuity package. The gap fee waiver results in a loss of up to 40 per cent of our income per week. Government support is critical to Big Fat Smile’s ongoing viability during this time,” the spokesperson continued.
There are some challenges and implications to the gap fee waiver implementation, Big Fat Smile said:
- Firstly: the waiving of gap fees for non-attending children is not a replication of ‘fee free care’ which was introduced during the 2020 lock-down; however it was advertised as such through the media. To clarify, this year, services will lose between $15-$70 per $100 of fees charged per child per day. On average, Big Fat Smile is losing 40 per cent of the fee for each non-attending child.
- Secondly, the process to implement the waiver must be undertaken as a refund and therefore, the term ‘waiver’ is misleading. Services Australia does not confirm the ‘gap fee’ amount to be refunded until the absence has been charged and submitted. Up until this point, any ‘gap fee’ is an estimate and likely to change.
- Finally, there is no support for families who do not have access to Child Care Subsidy. If services waive absent charges for these families the Organisation covers 100 per cent of the total income lost.
In an attempt to address the concerns with implementation, Big Fat Smile has been liaising with software providers, service providers and members of State and Federal Government to determine a family-centric method of implementation.
“Unfortunately, across the board, we (and other providers) have been met with the same process; absences and attendances must be submitted to confirm Gap Fee allocation and then manually refund families through a crediting process,” the spokesperson confirmed.
“Understandably this process has caused confusion, frustration and concern across the 3,000 families at Big Fat Smile (and undoubtedly across the sector) as statements are delivered and direct debits applied during a time where multiple media outlets are rejoicing with ‘free childcare’.”