The Abbott Government is cracking down on dodgy child care claims with a new dedicated payment compliance taskforce unveiled today.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said the Abbott Government was taking decisive action after years of Labor inaction saw a significant rise in suspicious claims across a number of child care payments and programmes.
Ms Ley said the new Child Care Payments Compliance Branch would create an intelligence network seeking out non-compliant services through a combination of targeted investigations into suspicious claims, random checks, forensic data analysis and better education.
She said the new taskforce was now in place and services were on notice.
“The Abbott Government has increased investment in child care fee assistance payments for Australian families to $28.5 billion over the next four years,” Ms Ley said.
“This is a massive investment by the Government aimed at helping Australian families struggling to find access to affordable and flexible child care after fees skyrocketed 53 per cent under Labor and we therefore take its compliance very seriously.
“Unfortunately, just like child care fees, Labor was all talk and no action when it came to addressing child care compliance in government.
“This has led to a steadily increasing number of suspicious claims from a small, but significant, minority of services in recent years.
“This new dedicated child care payment taskforce is aimed at cracking down on dodgy practices and claims whilst also deterring them from occurring in the first place.”
Ms Ley said the Child Care Payments Compliance Branch was now in place and included three new teams with dedicated compliance resources:
o Serious Non-compliance Task Force is a dedicated team of the Department of Education’s top compliance case managers from across its National and State Networks that are working together to conduct a concerted compliance effort on services at high risk of serious non-compliance.
o Compliance Strategy and Intelligence Team is a dedicated internal team focussing on forensic data interrogation and analysis, business intelligence, stakeholder and risk management to increase proactive identification of suspicious claims and support major operations with evidence and intelligence; and
o Compliance Operations Team is focussed on reducing systemic non-compliance issues across the child care sector through deterrence measures such as active random checks and greater education around the rules.
Ms Ley said there would also be closer intelligence sharing between the Department of Education and other agencies and jurisdictions, such as the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Human Services – who issue child care payments to parents – and State and Territory regulators.
“We’ll also continue to work closely with the child care sector and other stakeholders to identify issues and educate services and parents about correct payment practices,” she said.
Ms Ley said the need for stronger compliance had been a clear objective of the Abbott Government since being elected and the number of active checks of child care service claims by the Department of Education had already almost tripled to over 1400 in 2013-14.
This is in stark contrast to the previous Labor government, who oversaw a 30 per cent cut in the number of compliance checks to a low of about 500 in 2012-13:
“In 2012–13, the ANAO (Australian National Audit Office) identified that the department had changed its approach to undertaking compliance activities to more effectively utilise resources. The change in approach involved a reduction in the number of child care service provider inspections.” ANAO Audit Report No.13 2013–14 Audits of the Financial Statements of Australian Government Entities for the Period Ended 30 June 2013
Ms Ley said all types of child care fee assistance and operational support payments and programmes - including the Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate, Jobs Education Training Child Care Fee Assistance, and the Community Support Programme - would be monitored closely for suspect claims from services.
Ms Ley said services and parents found to making “bogus” claims faced a range of penalties, including service suspension and cancellation, paying back incorrectly-claimed payments, fines of over $100,000 per offence and even prosecution.
Ms Ley said cases of fraud by services would be dealt with the full force of the law.
Parents and services can report any suspect activities to Department of Education on 1800 664 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.