Published on Monday, 28 October 2019
Last updated on Monday, 29 March 2021
What is the Childcare Subsidy?
The Childcare Subsidy is a means-tested payment that helps families cover the cost of early childhood education and care before children start school.
Although it’s normally paid for up to nine hours of child care per week, some families are entitled to much more support than that, so let’s look at the ins and outs of this Work and Income payment.
Who can receive a Childcare Subsidy?
Your family situation, income and child care use determines whether you may qualify for a Childcare Subsidy.
This means you might receive the payment if:
- You’re the main carer of a dependent child
- You’re a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, who normally lives here and has no plans to move overseas
- Your family is on a low or middle income, taking into account how much you and your partner earn
Age-wise, your child needs to be:
- Under five-years-old, or
- Over five if they’re going to a cohort entry school (where new students start together on a set date after they turn five), or
- Under six if you receive a Child Disability Allowance for them
Your child must also be attending an approved early childhood programme for three or more hours per week.
Approved programmes can be teacher-led or whānau-led and your child might be going to a:
- Kindergarten or preschool;
- Child care centre or crèche;
- Playcentre or playgroup;
- Kōhanga reo, Punanga Reo, Aoga or other language and culture-focused programme, or
- Approved home-based care.
How can you check your eligibility for a Childcare Subsidy?
The ‘Check What You Might Get’ online guide is a quick way to see if you may qualify for a Childcare Subsidy, and any other financial assistance.
Set aside about five minutes to answer the questions and provide as much information as possible to get a general sense of what payments you might be eligible for.
If you have a partner, they should also complete the guide.
How many child care hours does a Childcare Subsidy pay for?
This subsidy is usually paid for up to nine hours of child care per week, if you’re not working, training or studying, but it’s not capped at that level.
You might be able to get as much as 50 hours a week if you’re:
- Working, studying or on an approved training course,
- Undertaking an activity that Work and Income has requested you do,
- Working nights as a shift-worker,
- Experiencing serious illness or disability, or
- Looking after a child who’s in hospital or a child you get the Disability Allowance for.
There is a caveat, though, because in most cases you won’t get the subsidy for more than nine hours a week if your child’s other parent or carer can look after them.
What happens if you’re eligible for a Childcare Subsidy and 20 Hours ECE?
It is possible to get both a Childcare Subsidy and 20 Hours ECE for your preschooler (if your Childcare Subsidy is for more than 20 hours a week), but you won’t be able to claim for the same hours.
This means that if you’re entitled to, say, 40 hours Childcare Subsidy, but claim 20 Hours ECE, then you can only receive a Childcare Subsidy for the 20 hours you haven’t used.
How much Childcare Subsidy will you get?
When it comes to dollars and cents, your subsidy amount is calculated according to your family size, income and how many hours your child goes to their approved early childhood programme each week.
The Childcare Subsidy rates are updated annually, and here are the current rates (as of 1 April 2021):
|Number of children
|Gross weekly income
|Childcare subsidy (per hour, per child)
|Childcare subsidy (per week, per child for 50 hours)
|Less than $800
|$800 to $1199.99
|$1200 to $1299.99
|$1300 to $1399.99
|$1400 or more
|Less than $920
|$920 to $1379.99
|$1380 to $1489.99
|$1490 to $1599.99
|$1600 or more
|3 or more
|Less than $1030
|$1030 to $1539.99
|$1540 to $1669.99
|$1670 to $1799.99
|$1800 or more
All subsidies are paid straight to your child care provider, and you can expect payments to stop when the provider closes for the Christmas holidays. Payments will re-start when they open their doors again.
How do you apply for a Childcare Subsidy?
It’s recommended that you apply for a Childcare Subsidy at least three or four weeks before you need it to start, because assistance begins from the date your child’s care starts – or from the date you apply, if this happens after care has started.
How you apply depends on whether you’re applying for a:
- Childcare Subsidy only; or a
- Childcare Subsidy and other payments
If you’re only applying for a Childcare Subsidy, then:
- You and your partner (if you have one) must complete a Childcare Assistance application form and provide the supporting documents,
- Next, you need to ask the supervisor of your child’s approved programme to fill out the supervisor’s part of the form,
- You then need to email the application form and supporting documents to this email: Centralised_childcare_reviews@msd.govt.nz or ask your child care provider to do this for you.
If you’re applying for a Childcare Subsidy and other payments, then you can apply online.
Once you’ve submitted your online application, Work and Income will let you know what else you need to do (such as asking your provider to fill out the supervisor's part of the Childcare Assistance application form).
What happens if your child is absent from child care?
If your child is away from care for less than three weeks (e.g. they're sick), the government will keep paying child care assistance to your provider without any action required from you.
If your child is going to be absent for more than three weeks, you will need to let your provider know and provide Work and Income with a medical certificate that gives a reason for your child's absence. The government can then keep paying for your child's place at the early childhood programme for up to six weeks.
The government may also pay for child care for up to 28 days if you're going overseas and let them know ahead of time. There's more information about absences here.
When you get a Childcare Subsidy, do you need to confirm your circumstances, going forward?
Yes. If your child hasn’t started school yet and you’re getting a Childcare Subsidy for them, then your payments will be reviewed by Work and Income every 52 weeks to confirm that you still need child care, see whether your circumstances have changed, and ensure that you’re getting the correct subsidy rate.
Work and Income will contact you a few weeks before the review is due, and it’s important that you follow these steps to ensure that your child care payments continue:
- Complete the review form they send you (even if you’ve recently updated your details with them);
- Ask your child care supervisor to sign the verification form Work and Income has provided;
- Provide proof of any income you have (this is explained in the form);
- Return the form to Work and Income - via email or post (details are on the form).
Once the review is done, the government will advise if your payments will keep going for the next year, or talk to you if your circumstances have changed and your payments need to as well.
What happens if your child is going to a cohort entry school?
A cohort entry school is a school where all new students start together on a set date after they turn five. As of January 2020, children at cohort entry schools will either start on the first day of term, or at a mid-point during term, after their fifth birthday.
Your child’s school will be able to confirm if they take this approach, and if your child is going to a cohort entry school and you’re getting a Childcare Subsidy for them, then you need to tell Work and Income what date they start by completing a Cohort Entry School Start Date form.
This ensures that you keep getting a Childcare Subsidy up to the date they start big school, and there is more information here.
What happens if your five-year-old can’t start school straight away?
If your child is going to a school that starts kids when they turn five, it may not be possible for them to begin classes immediately (e.g. if their new school is shut for the holidays).
In this case, the government might extend your child care payments beyond your child’s fifth birthday and pay for an extra four weeks of child care to take you through until school starts.
You need to be getting a Childcare Subsidy, keep meeting its eligibility criteria and have a child who should be starting school when they turn five, but can’t do this straightaway.
To apply, just call Work and Income on 1800 559 009 and explain why you need the extension of payments.
What happens if your family circumstances change?
It’s important that you tell Work and Income straightaway if there’s a change to your family’s circumstances which might affect your payments or eligibility for them.
Tell the government if:
- Your income or your partner’s income changes
- Your child stops attending the approved early childhood programme or moves to another provider
- Your child’s attendance/hours change
- There’s a change in the number of hours you or your partner work, study or train each week
- The reason your family gets a Childcare Subsidy changes
- Your child starts or stops getting 20 Hours ECE
There are more examples of changed circumstances here and it pays to be up front and up-to-date with Work and Income.
If you’re no longer eligible for a Childcare Subsidy (e.g. you have two children and your gross weekly income goes above $1,600), then they need to stop payments.
And speaking of stopped payments, it’s important to remember that your Childcare Subsidy will end once your child starts school. The government does provide child care assistance for school-aged children, however, and the OSCAR Subsidy may help you pay for before and after school care, and school holiday care.
To switch to the OSCAR Subsidy and get assistance paying for out of school hours care, you need to complete a Change of Circumstances form for your child (and be eligible for the OSCAR Subsidy). There's details about the application process here.
Work and Income
Fees for early childhood education services and kohanga reo, and how the government helps families pay for early learning and child care.
The government supports working families and eases the financial burden of child-raising with it's Working for Families Tax Credits.
The 20 Hours ECE subsidy ensures that all preschoolers can reap the rewards of ECE, regardless of their family’s income.