Early learning and care services can’t waive gap fees without business support

Media release

16 August 2021

The Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) has warned that, without business support for early learning services in lockdown areas, the Australian Government’s decision to extend the ‘gap fee’ waiver will have little effect.

‘From a family’s perspective, we appreciate today’s decision by the Australian Government to extend the gap fee waiver to lockdown areas across Australia,’ said ELACCA CEO Elizabeth Death. ‘In theory, this is a financial win for families who are keeping their children home from early learning and care due to lockdowns. Families certainly need the support.

‘Unfortunately, the plunge in income caused by waiving gap fees is not sustainable over a long lockdown. As we’ve discovered, a large proportion of early learning and care providers, of all sizes, are not eligible for JobSaver and COVID Disaster Payments.’

In Sydney, the majority of providers have been cash-flow negative for more than six weeks, with no government relief or respite in sight. These providers are grappling with the choice of reinstating gap fees for families, or failing to pay wages for educators.

‘It’s an impossible choice,’ Ms Death said. ‘Our sector is willing to shoulder some of the financial burden of the lockdown, but we can’t risk our ongoing viability or the job security of our qualified staff.

‘Instead, what we need is the type of business support package that the Australian Government rolled out in 2020, when so many early learning and care providers could not access JobKeeper.’

In 2020, the Government’s Recovery Package for the early learning and care sector provided a weekly payment of 25% of regular income, on the condition that services kept their doors open and retained all their staff.

‘The COVID-19 pandemic still has a long way to go in Australia, and we must ensure that early learning and care services, and their skilled educators, are ready to welcome children and families back the moment we return to a semblance of normal life,’ said Ms Death.