Paying for early childhood education 

How much does it cost to enrol a child in Early Childhood Education (ECE)?

The costs of ECE will vary from one provider to another, although the quality of childcare and other factors are likely to be much more important to you than small variations in cost. Factors which may determine how much childcare costs include:

  • whether the child can be enrolled under the 20 Hours ECE scheme
  • demand for ECE services in your area (if it outstrips supply, the costs could be higher)
  • whether meals are provided by the ECE provider
  • the staff-to-child ratio maintained by the provider

Depending on the ECE provider, you may also have to pay:

  • a bond, which is reimbursed when your child leaves,  
  • a non-refundable application, waiting list or booking fee - this means you don’t get the fee back if you change your mind,
  • late fees if you are late picking up your child.

The ECE provider may also ask you to pay a donation or an optional charge to help cover the cost of additional services such as meals. The provider should always warn you about these before you sign up.

So, look around and ask about fees from the providers that you’re interested in. You'll find information about picking the right childcare option on our Choosing an ECE provider page. For information on other factors important in choosing an Early Childhood Education service see below.
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What are the conditions around the 20 Hours Early Childhood Education (20 Hours ECE) scheme?

The 20 Hours ECE scheme can make early childhood education more affordable for families. It is available for all families regardless of their income and working hours and the funding is paid directly from the Ministry of Education to the Early Childhood Education (ECE) provider.

If your child is eligible and is attending a participating ECE provider, up to six hours per day, 20 hours per week of childcare for free. There may be additional fees.

To be eligible your child must be aged 3, 4 or 5 and attending an early childhood education service which is signed up to the scheme, for example kindergarten, day care, kohanga reo, playcentres or home-based service.

Not all ECE providers offer the 20 Hours ECE, so check with your ECE provider.

Some children who are eligible for the 20 Hours ECE are also eligible for different levels of childcare subsidies, which will be paid to the childcare provider. You can find out about these on our Family Assistance page. 

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How do I apply for 20 Hours ECE?

To apply for 20 Hours Free ECE

  • if your child is currently enrolled at an ECE service, ask if they offer, or plan to offer, 20 hours ECE 
  • if your child is not at an ECE service, you can search for one 
  • if your ECE service offers the scheme, you need to complete an enrolment agreement to enter the subsidy scheme. As well as the enrolment agreement, you have to state which days and hours you want to claim as part of the scheme – you can select any days and hours you want, as long as it doesn’t add up to more than six hours a day, and 20 hours a week

If your child goes to more than one eligible ECE service, you can split the hours you want to claim across both services, as long as:

  • it does not add up to more than 20 hours a week and six hours a day
  • you don’t claim the same hours twice

You can find out more information by viewing a guide to the 20 Hours ECE scheme on the Ministry of Education website. If you child is already enrolled with an ECE provider, they can provide you with more information about how 20 Hours ECE works - otherwise you can email the Ministry of Education's ECE team or call 0800 323 323.

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The child care centre I like says I have to enrol my child for a minimum of 7 hours per day, so it’s impossible for me to get 20 hours of childcare for free. Are they allowed to do this?

If the ECE provider is signed up to the 20 Hours ECE scheme, and your child is aged 3 -5 years, then you must be able to receive up to 6 hours per day of childcare free, for a maximum of 20 hours per week. Although the provider can’t charge you for these hours, they are allowed to charge you for any additional hours which your child attends. They are also entitled to enforce minimum enrolment hours or days.

The ECE provider may also ask you to pay donation or an optional charge to help cover the cost of additional services such as meals. You can choose to pay the optional charge – you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

If an ECE provider's fees and policies don't suit you, you can look around for an alternative provider which offers what you want.

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I enrolled my child at a day-care centre and paid fees in advance, but I’m not happy with the centre. Can I get a refund?

If you are unhappy with the service provided by a childcare centre, you should first discuss your concerns with the manager of the service, or with one of the senior staff.  The centre should also have on display information about their complaints procedures.

Whether you can get your money back will depend on the centre’s policy regarding this and on the reason for your change of mind. For example, the enrolment agreement might state that you have to give four weeks’ notice before cancelling the enrolment, and that if you don’t give this notice you won’t get your advance fees back.

If you can’t come to an agreement about how your complaint is to be resolved, you can contact: 

  • the provider’s owner or governing body and
  • the Ministry of Education  (if your complaint is still unresolved) 

You can also contact your local CAB on 0800 367 222 for help and support with your complaint.