20 Hours Free ECE in a Nutshell

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If you have children in childcare, you’ll likely have heard of the 20 hour Free ECE (early childhood education) subsidy that exists in New Zealand.

20 Hours Free ECE: What You Need to Know

In this guide to the 20 hour ECE subsidy we cover the following

  • What is 20 hours free ECE?
  • Who is entitled to 20 hours free childcare?
  • How do I get 20 hours free childcare?
  • Why does my centre charge more for the 20 hours free ece?

What is 20 hours Free ECE?

The 20 hours free ECE program is a government subsidy in place to encourage children to attend formal early childcare programs from the age of 3.

Whilst the wording around the 20 hours being FREE is common knowledge, the reality is that certain early childhood education providers offer certain hours for no cost and top up payments required to make up their cost of operating.

It’s important to note that the free 20 hours payment can be made for a maximum of 6 hours per day or 20 hours per week. Most childcare centres and Kōhanga reo will have set sessions on offer so you can pick and choose the sessions and hours that best suit your family.

Who is entitled to 20 hours free childcare?

Any child from the age of 3, 4 and 5 up until the day before their 6th birthday (as 6 is the age where primary education is compulsory).

20 Hours Free ECE is not income-tested, nor does it rely on you being a New Zealand citizen or resident.

How do I get 20 hours free childcare?

If your childcare centre or Kōhanga reo participates in the 20 hour free ECE program, the administrator or centre manager will be able to provide you with an attestation form which you must fill out to qualify for the 20 hours free.

The form is very simple to fill out and does not require a trip to Work and Income like the childcare subsidy. It’s all done through your ece provider.

You may need to ask for the form yourself and be sure to follow up if they don’t have one on hand. I can tell you from personal experience that a centre manager may not be forthcoming with the form, so be sure to ask for the “20 hours free ECE attestation” the moment your child turns 3 and becomes eligible.

Woman putting up her hands in joy with cash flying around and text overlay that reads "When your kid turns 3 and gets 20 hours free ece".

Why does my centre charge more for the 20 hours free ECE?

Whilst the 20 hours is funded by the government, many centres require extra income in order to provide the resources required for the day to day running of the centre.

Legally, if your centre participates on the program they must provide up to 20 hours per week, but can charge more for the remaining hours.

For example, if your child attends preschool for 7 hours per day and is eligible for 20 hours free ece for 6 of those hours, the 7th hour may be charged at a higher than usual hourly rate.

Whilst this is not my experience (my kids go to a community based, not for profit preschool), it pays to ask how remaining hours are charged.

Also note that centres can ask for an optional charge or donations but they must be tied to services provided.

Can I get the childcare subsidy as well as 20 free hours?

This might be possible but will depend on your income and other qualifying factors. In this case it is best to talk to Work and Income who administer the childcare subsidy.

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About Emma Healey

Emma is a recognised family finance and budgeting expert and founder of Mum's Money. Her advice has been featured in Readers Digest, Yahoo Finance, Lifehacker, The Simple Dollar, MSN Money and more.