Thursday 23 January 2020

Government 'stunned' over rising childcare premiums as it 'considers' fund

Deputy CEO Pobal Jerry Murphy Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD Dr Ela Hogan, Pobal during the launch of the Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report 2018/2019 at the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, Miesian Plaza, Baggot Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Deputy CEO Pobal Jerry Murphy Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD Dr Ela Hogan, Pobal during the launch of the Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report 2018/2019 at the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, Miesian Plaza, Baggot Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Anne-Marie Walsh and Amy Molloy

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone is set to consider an emergency fund for childcare providers after admitting she is "stunned" that some face a trebling of insurance premiums.

She was speaking as a new report revealed that full-time crèche fees have risen by 3.6pc this year, with weekly fees per child ranging from €148 in Leitrim to €246 in parts of Dublin.

Childcare providers have warned that the dramatic increases in premiums will be passed on to parents.

In a speech, she said she was "pretty stunned" after hearing one provider's premium will rise from €3,000 to €9,000 from January 1.

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She said such a huge increase was "news to me".

In the past three years, she said providers had increased their fees and there had been very little increase prior to that. She said fees varied depending on the county.

The minister noted that on Friday many providers got a letter from their broker to say that a major provider was no longer going to be providing insurance in the market.

She said it was her understanding the broker was in discussions to find another provider and there should be further information on that today or later in the week.

"It's very worrying that there's only one provider in the market and I hope that will change," she said.

Ms Zappone added the Department of Public Expenditure had said Insurance Ireland would offer its phoneline to provide assistance to crèche owners.

In terms of an emergency fund for providers, she said "we'll consider everything", although she added it had not yet been discussed as the issue had only come to her attention in the last number of days.

Ms Zappone said a referendum to force down court awards for damages was one of the proposals under discussion to deal with rising premiums.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week raised the prospect of holding a referendum to cap insurance payouts if legal reforms don't reduce damages.

The Government has also asked the Law Reform Commission to consider whether it is possible to limit such damages.

Meanwhile, Regina Bushell, chairperson of Seas Suas, a representative group for independent childcare and early education providers, called on the Government to intervene before it is too late.

"The major insurance provider in this sector has just pulled out of the Irish market leaving childcare providers looking for another insurer at very short notice," said Ms Bushell.

"Many of our members have been offered quotes three times what they were paying, which is simply not sustainable and we will have two choices - close the doors before January or pass on this increased cost to already hard-pressed parents.

"Lots of leisure businesses closed this year because they couldn't get insurance and now childcare is heading the same direction."

Crèche owners have told how their premiums have increased despite no claims being made against them, while others have slammed how insurers have settled claims against them without their knowledge.

Linda Browne, owner of Stepping Stones Preschool in Donaghmede, Dublin said she hadn't had a claim in 24 years of business.

However her insurance premium has risen from €260 in 2013 to €630 this year. She has been quoted €1,600 for 2020.

"I hadn't budgeted for such an increase so I will end up having to borrow from my own personal account," she said.

"I know that it might seem like a very small amount of money, but we don't earn a huge amount.

"There's so much uncertainty for childcare providers at the minute and we don't feel like we're being treated as professionals.

"It is worrying that we don't know what's happening one year to the next."

Irish Independent

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