Apology issued after Centrelink asks why 10 year olds can't be left home alone

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

An error in the roll-out of the Federal Government's new child care subsidy scheme resulted in parents of 10-year-old primary school students being asked to explain why their child could not be left home alone.

An advertising campaign launched last week urged parents and carers to log into their myGov site, access their Centrelink account and complete an online childcare assessment form, including details of their combined family incomes, work activity level of parents and the type of childcare service they wish to access.

But parents of primary school children 10 years of age and older who went online to fill in their details were shocked when they were asked "Is there any reason (your child) cannot be left alone?".

Sydney mother Sarah Collis was faced with question when filling in child care subsidy details for her son who has just turned 11.

She said her first reaction was "yes, there is a reason. He is a child".

She was then directed to write and upload a statutory declaration stating there was no one over the age of 18 to care for her son and give a reason why he could not be left alone.

The government has since said the question, which caused confusion among parents, was an error when asked in regard to primary school aged children. However parents of children as young as 11 who are attending high school will be asked if there is a reason their child cannot be left home alone before and after school and in the school holidays. 

Federal Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen apologised for the confusion and said there had been no change to government policy regarding the age children were eligible to receive a subsidy. He blamed the question relating to primary school children on a "design issue".

He said the issue was identified on Sunday, April 8, and resolved the following day.

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"To be eligible for the child care subsidy, children must be 13 or under and not attending secondary school," Mr Jongan said.

"Families who receive child care benefit or child care rebate need to provide extra information to the Department of Human Services to be assessed for child care subsidy.

"As some children may be attending secondary school at 11 years of age, additional questions for families with children aged 10 were included in the online child care subsidy assessment.

"These questions were included to establish if a child under 13 and at secondary school (or a child older than 13) might still need to access child care. If so, a family will need to demonstrate the child cannot reasonably be left alone, and there is nobody over the age of 18 available to care for the child.

"A design issue with the online child care subsidy assessment incorrectly led to a small number of people being asked to provide a statutory declaration for their primary school aged child.

"This issue has now been resolved and there is nothing further for these families to do. Their assessment will be processed and the department will contact them if we require any further information.

"Statutory declarations are only required for children attending secondary school. We apologise for any confusion caused."

The Australian government has started the process of transitioning to the new childcare subsidy, which will replace the two current childcare payments – the childcare benefit and the childcare rebate, from July 2.

While most states in Australia do not specify an age that children can be left unsupervised at home, some parents have expressed anger that parents were facing further questions when they already accessed the service.