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Bungle leads to chaos over child care

By DARREN GRAY CANBERRA Friday 30 June 2000

A bungle in the child-care benefits payment system could take weeks to fix and place pressure on non-profit care centres and parents.

At least 40,000 Australian families who use child care have been hit by the bureaucratic bungle, which occurred when payments were being adjusted for the new tax system.

The Federal Opposition seized on the bungle yesterday, claiming some parents could be $122 out of pocket each week until the system was fixed. But child-care groups said it was unclear whether families would be out of pocket at all.

The problem has been caused by a series of errors in letters from Centrelink to many child-care centres outlining the new payments.

The opposition described the episode as a GST bungle that could affect 260,000 families.

Opposition family and community services spokesman Wayne Swan said the government's handling of the new payment, which combines two benefits, had been incompetent.

Community child-care operators warned that the mistakes - which covered a range of topics - could take at least a couple of weeks to fix, putting pressure on families and non-profit centres in the meantime.

The National Association of Community-based Children's Ser-vices said one centre serving about 160 families had been sent a letter saying it had only two families on the books, while some centres had been sent the names of parents connected to other child-care operators and others had been informed that chil-dren eligible for a benefit would not receive it.

Centres need the information from Centrelink to work out how much discount parents should receive on their fees.

They are then paid the discounted amount by the government; the rest of the charge is a gap cost to parents.

Community Services Minister Larry Anthony said the problems had been caused by Centrelink staff incorrectly recording information from parent's assessment forms. Also, some of the forms were filled in incorrectly.

Mr Anthony said he was made aware of problems on Tuesday night and a plan had been implemented to help centres affected by the mix-up.

"What we've said to them all (child-care centres) and most importantly to the parents, is `Look, if you don't get your full child-care benefit on the first of July or next Monday afterwards, we will ensure that within a two-week period that you'll get it and we'll backdate it so you don't miss out'," he said.

Mr Anthony said the government acknowledged that the problem would pose difficulties for child-care centres over the next week.

Prime Minister John Howard said the glitch that caused the problem would be fixed. "It's being fixed now and nobody will be denied their increased benefit," he said.

In almost all cases the new child-care benefit is expected to be paid direct to centres to lower the fees parents must pay for care.

-- (, June 29, 2000

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