National Childcare Scheme (NCS)

Introduction

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) is a new scheme that provides financial support to help parents to meet the costs of childcare.

The National Childcare Scheme provides 2 types of childcare subsidy for children over 6 months of age:

  • A universal subsidy for children under 3. Children over 3 who have not yet qualified for the ECCE are also eligible. It is not means-tested.
  • An income assessed subsidy for children up to 15. It is means-tested.

You cannot get the Universal Subsidy and an income assessed subsidy at the same time. However, you can choose which subsidy is of greatest benefit to you.

Your childcare provider (this includes childminders and school-age childcare services) must be registered with Tusla and have a National Childcare Scheme contract with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

You must apply for the subsidy, but it is paid directly to your childcare provider. Your provider then will subtract your subsidy from your childcare bill.

You can apply online and by paper application – see ‘How to apply’ below.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) is responsible for NCS policy, legislation and oversight but day-to-day management of the scheme is carried out by Pobal (the scheme administrator).

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme provides early childhood care and education for pre-school children. It will continue to operate alongside the NCS – see information about wrap around childcare below.

COVID-19 and the National Childcare Scheme

There are special financial supports for childcare providers during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

You can find more information about childcare during COVID-19.

What happens to existing childcare programmes?

Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) programmes are closed to new applications since 14 February 2020. If you are registered in a TEC programme, you can choose to stay on TEC until you are no longer eligible or transfer to the NCS.

If you switch to the NCS, you will stay on your current programme until your childcare provider registers you for the NCS and you confirm the registration.

The NCS has replaced the TEC programmes - see the table below for details.

Existing targeted programmes

Programme name Closing date for new registrations
Training and Employment Childcare (TEC), which covers: Registrations to the ASCC, CEC and CETS programmes closed on 14 February 2020
Community Childcare Subvention (CCS)

Community Childcare Subvention Plus (CCSP)

Registrations to the CCS and CCSP programmes closed on 25 October 2019

Which subsidy can I apply for?

You can apply for the subsidy that is best for your family situation.

Key points about the universal subsidy

  • It is available to parents with any income level and it is not means tested
  • Your child must be above the age of 6 months, but below the age when they can start the free ECCE scheme.
  • The subsidy rates are based on the number of hours your child is attending childcare. See our document on the universal childcare subsidy for subsidy rates.
  • Children must be attending a childcare provider who is registered with Tusla

Key points about the income assessed subsidy

  • It is for children aged between 6 months (24 weeks) and 15 years
  • It is means tested and available to families with an annual reckonable income of up to €60,000. See ‘Rules’ below.
  • Your hourly subsidy rates are based on your individual circumstances (depending on your reckonable family income and the age and educational stage of your child). See ‘Rates’ below.
  • During school terms, you can use your subsidised hours for before-school and after-school childcare costs
  • Children must be attending a childcare provider who is registered with Tusla
  • You do not have to be employed but the number of subsidised childcare hours available will depend on the hours you and your partner work, study or train. See ‘Rules’ below.

Rules

You must meet certain conditions to be eligible for the NCS:

  • Relationship to the child: You or your current partner must be a parent of the child or acting in loco parentis (this means acting as a parent to the child).
  • Residency status: You must be ordinarily resident in Ireland and have a legal right to live here (that is, you are either a national of an EU/EEA member state or Switzerland, or have immigration status or leave to remain).
  • PPS numbers: You must provide your own PPS number and the PPS number of the child or children you are applying for.
  • Age of the child: To qualify for the universal subsidy, your child must be above the age of 6 months but below the age when they can start the free ECCE scheme. To qualify for the income assessed subsidy, your child must be between 6 months (24 weeks) to 15 years.

You can read more about the eligibility criteria for subsidies in the NCS policy guidelines (pdf).

How is income assessed for the NCS?

You can choose to have your income assessed automatically or manually for the income assessed subsidy. Your application will take longer if you choose the manual method.

Automatic method (Fast Track): Your income can be assessed automatically using information available from Revenue and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP). If you agree to this, the NCS will get the information directly from Revenue and the DEASP using your PPS number and your partner’s PPS number.

Manual method: You can ask for your income to be assessed manually. You must provide documents such as payslips or DEASP declarations which show your income. These are reviewed and assessed by Pobal (the scheme administrator). You can get a full list of the documents accepted as proof of your income (income proofs) in Appendix 2 of the NCS policy guidelines (pdf).

You must declare additional income, such as any maintenance you pay or receive, any income that requires a Revenue Form 12, and any foreign income.

What assessment period is used?

Your income is normally assessed based on your reckonable income from all sources for the previous tax year.

For the 2020-2021 programme year, the previous tax year is 2019 (1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019).

You can choose to have the current year assessed if you believe your income from the current year will be significantly less than your income from the previous year. You may be asked to provide information to support this. Your application is then manually reviewed and assessed.

You can read more about current year assessments in the NCS policy guidelines (pdf).

Self-declarations and supporting documents may be checked on a sample basis.

What is reckonable income?

If you are applying for an income assessed subsidy, the rate you qualify for depends on your reckonable income.

Your reckonable income is the total amount of your net family income. This is income from all sources (including most social welfare payments), after tax, PRSI and USC have been deducted.

However, some social welfare payments and other allowable items or allowable deductions are excluded from reckonable income under the NCS – see below.

What is counted as family income?

If you are parenting alone, only your reckonable income is calculated and assessed. If you are living with another adult who is not your partner (such as a parent or other relative), their income is not taken into account.

If you are living with your partner (such as a spouse, civil partner or co-habitant) your combined reckonable income is assessed. Your partner’s income will be included even if they are not your child’s parent or guardian. If your partner is living apart from you temporarily their income is still included.

What are allowable deductions?

When the NCS assesses your income, some of it is not taken into account. These are called allowable deductions or allowable items. Your reckonable income is reduced by the amount of the allowable deductions. Allowable deductions include:

How many subsidised childcare hours am I entitled to?

The number of childcare hours you can get depends on the hours you (and your partner, if you have one) work, study or train.

  • Enhanced hours subsidy: If you (and your partner, if you have one) are working, studying or training – you will be entitled to up to 45 hours of subsidised childcare per week.
  • Standard hours subsidy: If you (and your partner, if you have one) are not working, studying or training – you can qualify for up to 20 hours of subsidised childcare per week.

The subsidised weekly hours include any time your child spends in pre-school or school.

For example, if you are entitled to a maximum of 45 hours’ subsidy, you will receive a reduced amount during term time (because your child is in school). But during the school holidays, you are entitled to the full 45 hours’ subsidy to pay towards childcare. See ‘Wrap-around childcare’ below for more details.

How are work, study and training hours assessed?

Any part-time hours, casual working, or hours in labour activation schemes such as Gateway and SOLAS programmes, are counted as work.

If you are studying for a higher education course on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), this is counted under studying and training.

You may be asked for proof of work, study or training. You can read more about what is accepted as proof of work, study or training in the NCS policy guidelines (pdf).

What if my circumstances change?

Change of income: If your income suddenly changes for reasons outside your control (for example, if you lose your job or your hours at work are reduced), you can apply for a sudden change assessment. You can do this online at ncs.gov.ie or by post. This does not apply if you choose to change your income (for example, by going on a shorter working year or term-time working arrangement).

Your new income assessment is based on the 4 weeks immediately before your application. Any subsidies awarded under a sudden change assessment are for 6 months only. After this, you must re-apply for a new subsidy.

No longer eligible: You must also notify Pobal if you are no longer eligible for the subsidy, for example, you are no longer caring for the child for whom you were given a subsidy. If you or your partner no longer meet the criteria for the enhanced hours subsidy, the subsidy ends 20 working days after the notification.

Loss of work or study: If you stop working or studying, you may no longer qualify for an enhanced hours subsidy. However, you get the enhanced hours for 4 weeks from the end date of your work or study. Your subsidy is then reduced to standard hours. You or your partner’s income will be assessed at the next renewal date unless you ask for an assessment of income before that.

What is wrap-around childcare?

The NCS offers wrap-around care for families, to help with the cost of childcare for the hours that children spend outside school or pre-school.

This means your subsidy can be used for childcare costs for hours outside of school or pre-school, including:

  • Childcare used before school or pre-school starts
  • After-school childcare
  • Childcare used outside term time (school holidays and mid-term breaks)

Outside term time (during school holidays), parents are entitled to the maximum number of childcare hours they have been awarded. During term time, this is reduced. See the tables below.

Maximum number of wrap-around hours per week Term-time hours Outside term-time hours
Enhanced hours subsidy Standard hours subsidy Enhanced hours subsidy Standard hours subsidy
ECCE (pre-school) 30 0 45 20
Junior and senior infants 23 0 45 20
1st - 6th class 18 0 45 20
Secondary school 15 0 45 20

If your child is in pre-school or school and you are entitled to the standard hours subsidy (20 hours of subsidised childcare per week), you can only use these 20 hours for childcare during school holidays and mid-term breaks (not during term time).

You can see an example of how wrap-around childcare works in question 28 of the Frequently Asked Questions.

Rates

You can use the subsidy calculator on the NCS website to help you work out what your entitlement will be.

If you are currently on a targeted childcare programme, you can use the subsidy calculator to see which scheme will benefit you most: the NCS or your current programme.

The National Childcare Scheme rates are:

Income assessed subsidy
Reckonable income Rate per hour (0-1 years) Rate per hour (1-3 years) Rate per hour (over 3, not yet in school) Rate per hour (school age and up to 15)
€26,000 or under €5.10 €4.35 €3.95 €3.75
€27,500 €4.90 €4.18 €3.78 €3.58
€32,500 €4.22 €3.61 €3.19 €3.03
€37,500 €3.54 €3.05 €2.61 €2.48
€42,500 €2.87 €2.48 €2.03 €1.93
€47,500 €2.19 €1.92 €1.45 €1.38
€52,500 €1.51 €1.35 €0.87 €0.83
€57,500 to €60,000 €0.84 €0.78 €0.33 €0.33

You are entitled to the maximum subsidy rates if your reckonable income is €26,000 or less. Your subsidy rate decreases as your income increases up to the threshold of €60,000.

How to apply

You can apply online at ncs.gov.ie.

To apply online, you need:

  • A verified MyGovID account
  • Your children’s information, including their date of birth and PPS numbers
  • Your employment and income-related details
  • Your partner’s PPS number (your partner does not need a verified MyGovID account)
  • Your partner’s employment and income-related details

You can get more information about getting a verified MyGovID from the MyGovID website.

The NCS website has a step-by-step guide to the online application process.

You can apply by post by contacting the Parent Support Centre – see ‘Further information’ below. These applications will take longer to process and may affect the start date of the subsidy payment.

Subsidies are awarded on a yearly basis. Parents and childcare providers will be notified when a subsidy is due for renewal. You will get this notification at least 20 working days before your subsidy payment is due to expire.

A 6-month renewal date will be set in some situations – set out in the NCS policy guidelines (pdf).

What happens when my application has been approved?

  1. You get a unique code called a CHICK (Childcare Identifier Code Key) when your application is approved
  2. Your provider then uses the CHICK and your child’s name and date of birth to register your child on the National Childcare Scheme
  3. You get an email notification asking you to confirm that the hours of childcare are correct
  4. Your subsidy is paid directly to your childcare provider on your behalf
  5. Your childcare provider subtracts the subsidy from your childcare bill

If you choose to use 2 different childcare providers for a single child (for example on different days of the week) you can use a single CHICK for both providers.

If you are separated from the parent of your child and you are both awarded a subsidy for the child, you each get a different CHICK.

What if I'm not satisfied with the decision?

If you are not satisfied with a subsidy award or the amount of the subsidy, you can have the decision reviewed by Pobal. You must request a review within 30 working days of the decision.

If you are still not satisfied following the outcome of the review, you have a right of appeal to an appeals officer (independent of the scheme administrator). You must appeal within 30 working days of the review decision.

You can get detailed information on process for reviews and appeals in the NCS policy guidelines (pdf).

Can I use any childcare provider?

Childcare providers must be registered with Tusla and have a National Childcare Scheme contract with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

You can get a list of contracted childcare providers from the National Childcare Scheme website.

You can also get information from your local City and County Childcare Committee.

Further information

You can contact your local City or County Childcare Committee for information on the scheme and services in your area.

Visit ncs.gov.ie for more information on the National Childcare Scheme or contact the National Childcare Scheme Parent Support Centre. Call (01) 906 8530 (9am - 5pm Monday to Friday) or email NCS@dcya@gov.ie

You can get detailed information on the NCS in the policy guidelines (pdf)

Childcare Directorate

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

43-49 Mespil Road
Dublin 4
Ireland

Tel: (01) 647 3000
Fax: (01) 647 3224

Pobal

Holbrook House
Holles Street
Dublin 2
D02 EY84
Ireland

Tel: (01) 511 7000
Fax: (01) 511 7981
Page edited: 6 October 2020