COVID-19 restrictions and the Early Childhood Education and Care sector

To slow the spread of COVID-19, state and territory governments may impose restrictions on local communities. This may affect how child care is delivered. This page provides information on Australian Government measures to support the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector in restricted areas.

Victoria

Current restrictions

As of 6pm 2 August 2020, Stage 4 restrictions apply across metropolitan Melbourne.

As of 11:59pm 5 August 2020, Stage 3 restrictions apply throughout regional Victoria, including Mitchell Shire.

Details on restrictions are available on vic.gov.au

From 6 August, ECEC services in metropolitan Melbourne can only provide care for:

  • children of permitted workers, and
  • vulnerable children.

Information about permitted workers

Information about support for vulnerable children

Other information from the Victorian Government

From 11:59pm 13 September 2020, some restrictions will be eased across Victoria.

Details on Victoria’s roadmap to reopening are available on vic.gov.au

Support for restricted areas

On 5 August 2020, the Australian Government announced support for Victorian families and services. The measures build on the successful Child Care Subsidy (CCS).

The Government will extend this support until 27 September 2020, in line with Victoria’s roadmap to reopening.  Services will receive the extension payments as a lump sum. The department will contact eligible providers.

Increased Transition Payment

CCS approved providers in metropolitan Melbourne have received a 30% Transition Payment for the six-week period from 3 August to 13 September. This was made through four payments.

The increase does not alter any of the Transition Payment conditions.

Additional Viability Support Payment

The Additional Viability Support Payment (AVSP) recognises that Outside School Hours Care services across Victoria have experienced a drop in attendances because of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grant arrangements for the AVSP will incorporate the additional two weeks and be extended from six to eight weeks, or eight to ten weeks, as relevant.

For more information, visit the Additional Viability Support Payment webpage.

Special Transition Payment

Melbourne Metropolitan services may be eligible for a Special Transition Payment. This payment is aimed at supporting services with low attendance who are relying on allowable absences.

To be eligible:

  • Your service must be located in metropolitan Melbourne, Victoria
  • You must have been approved for CCS before 13 July 2020
  • You must be eligible to receive a Transition payment for the week commencing 20 July 2020
  • Your service's revenue during the reference fortnight must include less than 50% from CCS payments
  • The total hours of care for the fortnight 10 to 23 August 2020 is less than 30% of the hours provided during the reference fortnight. You must be waiving gap fees to provide an incentive for families to keep children enrolled
  • You must have submitted accurate session reports for the service by 7 September 2020 for the weeks commencing 10 August and 17 August 2020.

Eligible services will receive eight weeks' worth of entitlement as a lump sum payment.

The entitlement will be either 10, 15 or 25% of the fee revenue for the reference fortnight, based on the difference in attendance.

The Government will provide $16 million in funding to support this payment.

An OSHC service that is also receiving the AVSP will only be eligible for a 10% Special Transition Payment based on reference fortnight fee revenue where:

  • CCS revenue is less than 40% of its reference fortnight fee revenue, and
  • attendance hours in the fortnight starting 10 August 2020 are less than 10% of attendance hours in its reference fortnight.

The department has contacted eligible providers with an offer. Payments will be made from the week commencing 14 September 2020.

For more information, including eligibility, conditions and payment calculations, please see the Transition Payment Guidelines.

Additional allowable absences

All Victorian children have an additional 30 days of allowable absences. These are in addition to the existing 42 days for the 2020–21 financial year.

Families can use their allowable absence days where children are not permitted to attend, or where families prefer to keep them at home.

The additional absences have been applied to families’ accounts automatically. Services can access them as they usually would when submitting session reports.

Victorian services are encouraged to waive gap fees for absent children. You cannot waive gap fees for children attending care, but you can offer discounts.

These measures encourage families to maintain their enrolment, so that CCS can continue to flow to services.

Other support for ECEC sector

Transition Package

On 13 July 2020, the sector returned to the CCS with support from a Transition Package:

  • Approved providers who signed up are receiving a Transition Payment of 25% of their fee revenue until 27 September.
  • The activity test has been eased. Families experiencing financial hardship may be eligible for the Additional Child Care Subsidy.
  • Services can waive gap fees if they are forced to close on public health advice, or if a child is absent in a Stage 3 or higher restricted area, until the end of the year.

ECEC Relief Package

The Australian Government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 with the ECEC Relief Package. The Relief Package ended on 12 July 2020.

A review found the Relief Package helped keep services open and viable, with 99% of around 13,400 services operational as of 27 May 2020.

Questions and answers

Employment guarantee

What is the Employment Guarantee?

The Employment Guarantee reflects the expectation that services will look after their staff.

CCS and Transition Payments have replaced the Relief Package and JobKeeper payments. There is also extra support for Victoria. These measures should be passed on through wages and payments to staff.

Standing down permanent staff without pay is inconsistent with the Employment Guarantee.

Services that do not fulfil the conditions of the Transition Payment will be investigated. If they are found to have breached the conditions, they may need to make repayments and they could lose access to future payments.

Concerned employees or parents should speak with their provider in the first instance. They can then escalate matters to the tipoff line on 1800 664 231 or tipoffline@dese.gov.au.

Are there any circumstances where I can stand staff down?

You cannot terminate an employee engaged during the pre-transition fortnight without reasonable justification. Reasonable justification for termination may include:

  • Misconduct
  • The loss of an essential qualification, including, for example, the loss of a working with children clearance
  • The expiry of a fixed term of employment, for example at the completion of a traineeship contract.

You cannot terminate an employee due to redundancy, including for business restructuring or sale. If any business restructuring or sale during the transition period will cause an existing employee to lose their job, you or any new provider will not be eligible for Transition Payments.

Business viability

What do I need to do if my service is asked to close by the Victorian Government?

Services must report their closure and re-opening, clearly stating the reason for the closure, to the following authorities within 24 hours:

  • Your state or territory regulatory authority
  • The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment in your state or territory (contact details below), and
  • Via your third-party software or via Operational Details in the PEP.

Please contact your software provider if you need help reporting a closure via your third-party software program.

Contact details for state and territory offices of the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment:

If my service is closed due to COVID-19, can I increase the hours of care set out in a child’s enrolment to increase my CCS income?

The department would view such arrangements as an attempt to defraud the Commonwealth on the part of both the provider and the family.

It is entering a contract for service that cannot be honoured with the intent of increasing income from the Australian Government.

Any allegations that a provider is entering into such arrangements would be investigated by the department and compliance action, including potential criminal prosecution for fraud, will be taken. 

I am a service located in Melbourne and no children are physically attending. Does the service need to open?

All Melbourne services receiving CCS and transition payments should be open and available for children of permitted workers.

To be eligible to receive ongoing payments, including CCS and transition payments, services must be open to provide care if:

  • the service is an approved child care service under Family Assistance Law,
  • the service is employing staff who are available to attend the service to provide care, should that be required for vulnerable children or children of permitted workers, and
  • the service is accessing relevant Child Care Subsidy support (such as allowable absences and gap fee waivers) to manage changes in child attendance, or

However, if it is apparent that there is no demand for care the following day, the service can choose whether or not to have workers physically present, taking into account current COVID-19 restrictions, state government requirements or requirements under relevant licensing or funding arrangements. Services are not permitted to be physically shut and not available for children for ongoing periods during the stage 4 restriction period, or if there is one child needing care.

Are the Government support payments (i.e. Transition Payment, Additional Viability Support Payment etc.) counted as income?

All Commonwealth grants need to be recorded as income. However, the following payments are exempt from Goods and Services Tax:

  • Transition Payment
  • Special Transition Payment
  • Additional Viability Support Payment

In Home Care

Can families in Victoria access In Home Care?

The Australian Government is able to support Victorian families within existing In Home Care (IHC) settings, subject to eligible families being matched with educators that can meet their needs.

Families wishing to access IHC should contact the Victorian IHC Support Agency on 1800 993 737 or via email infor@ihc.org.au. The IHC Support Agency will assess families’ eligibility for IHC and refer them to a service that can meet their needs.

More information is available on the In Home Care webpage.

Permitted workers

What arrangements are in place to enable permitted workers to access child care?

From 6 August 2020, only the children of permitted workers and vulnerable kids will be able to access child care and kinder in metropolitan Melbourne.

For the purposes of child care and kinder, a permitted worker can also include someone working from home. This does not apply to every worker working from home – only those working in permitted industries.

The Victorian Government has provided information to parents and guardians on how they can seek a permit to access child care. Early childhood providers should use these permits to enable access to care.

More information is here about accessing child care and kinder in Victoria.

Border restrictions

Can I waive gap fees for Victorian children if my NSW service is located near the Victorian border?

No. Services who are located outside Victoria are not eligible to waive gap fees, even if they have enrolled children located in Victoria.

Can a NSW FDC or IHC service located near the Victorian border, which has approval for educators in both states, waive gap fees?

Yes, but only the educators located and providing care in a location with stay at home directions can waive gap fees where a child is absent from care. 

What about access to child care in other jurisdictions where there are cross-border complications and other issues?

Families and services should seek information from their respective state and territory governments.

Here are some helpful links by jurisdiction:

More information

Visit the Victorian Department of Education and Training website for more information about restrictions in Victoria and the impact on the sector.

The Victorian Government has set up a phone line dedicated to providing information about COVID-19 and education settings. Call 1800 338 663.

For other information about the current Victorian restrictions contact the COVID-19 hotline on 1800 675 398 or visit the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website.

Providers and services can email ccshelpdesk@dese.gov.au or call 1300 667 276.

Parents looking for care can search Child Care Finder or call the parent helpline on 1800 291 041 from 9am to 5pm AEST, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).

Employees and parents who are concerned that providers aren’t meeting the conditions of their Transition Payment can report to the tipoff line on 1800 664 231 or tipoffline@dese.gov.au.

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