'Exempt' pre-schools hit with rates bills of €20,000
CHILDCARE facilities are in financial turmoil because they are being levied with rates bills of up to €20,000 even though they were assured last year that they would be exempt.
Childcare bodies yesterday called for an urgent meeting with the Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald after receiving hundreds of complaints from facilities being charged unaffordable rates.
The row centres on rates exemptions that were granted last year to pre-schools "wholly or mainly" funded by the Government.
The Irish Preschool Play Association (IPPA) said this had now been changed, and was only given to facilities "exclusively or 100pc" funded through the Government's free pre-school scheme.
This apparent change in policy is putting hundreds of pre-schools back into the rates net, said the IPPA.
One small service, catering for just 13 children, was hit with a rates bill of €1,800, while some services in the Fingal County area of north Dublin had received bills for upwards of €20,000, according to the IPPA.
There are fears that the huge rates bills could force some pre-schools to shut their doors, reduce space, cut staff numbers or reduce services.
The IPPA said in a joint submission with the National Children's Nurseries Association: "The agreement on rates reached in 2010 between the Office of the Minister for Children and the Valuations Office has altered. Today local authorities are sending rates bills to childcare services, which had been assured that they were exempt.
"The rates issue could be the tipping point which leads to a range of consequences."
Facilities could now be forced to refuse places to siblings of children in the free pre-school year and stop children with special needs from availing of a second pre-school year, paid for by their parents.
It is possible that they could also be barred from offering additional paid services -- such as drama or music instruction -- on top of the basic three hours a day of free pre-school provided for under the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme.
However, the Department of Children said that commercial rates were a matter to be directed at the Valuations Office, which had changed its view and would no longer exempt services that had some private income from parents.