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Creche owners were paid €5m in childcare funding based on incorrect claims

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Dr Fergal Lynch

Dr Fergal Lynch

Dr Fergal Lynch

Invalid claims for Government funding by creche owners based on incorrect attendance figures more than trebled to over €5m in the recent school year.

Inspections of attendance figures by children at a number of Early Years childcare schemes detected invalid payments worth €5.1m in 2018/19, including one claim for €180,000 by one childcare provider.

Over €3.45m in overclaims related to the operators of community and voluntary childcare facilities and €1.6m to private enterprises.

Overpayments based on wrongly registered attendance figures rose from 0.4pc of all payments in 2017/18 to 1.1pc in 2018/19, Department of Children and Youth Affairs figures revealed.

More than 6pc of claims by creche owners in Limerick city and 2.6pc of claims by childcare providers in Dublin city were not supported by genuine attendance figures.

The lowest level of overclaims were in Fingal and Wicklow, where just 0.2pc of claims were not validated.

The figures were uncovered in compliance checks by Pobal, which oversees the operation of three Government-funded subvention schemes.

Offsetting

The schemes include the Early Childhood Care and Education programme, the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and the Training Education Childcare programme.

The secretary general of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Fergal Lynch, stressed that the sums involved did not represent any loss to taxpayers as overclaims, once identified, were automatically offset against future payments to creche owners.

"Subsequently, in a majority of cases, services that have been identified as overclaiming do not receive Exchequer funding over and above the level that they should have received in that programme year," Mr Lynch said.

"This department takes the protection of Exchequer funding very seriously and therefore works to ensure that there is appropriate governance and oversight of the Early Years beneficiary schemes."

Checks, including unannounced inspections by Pobal officials, had been strengthened in recent years, in tandem with increased investment in State-supported childcare.

An appropriate level of governance and oversight was crucial, he said, because investment in childcare had risen by 117pc over the past four budgets.

Over €448.1m was spent on funding the three childcare programmes in 2018/19.

Targeted

Pobal took a targeted, risk-based approach in planning its compliance visits to childcare providers, prioritising high-value CCS contracts last year.

The rules of the schemes before 2017/18 did not link attendance with funding sufficiently clearly to enable the department to substantiate a finding that overclaims had been made, Mr Lynch said

The value of overclaims in 2017/18 was €1.6m.


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