Childcare waiting lists

With parents struggling to find childcare, some childcare centres charge hefty fees to place your baby on their wait lists.

High fees and long waits

Arranging childcare for your baby or toddler can be hard enough emotionally when you plan to return to work; long waiting lists and a lack of choice in suitable care can add to the stress. 

A survey by parent advocacy group The Parenthood has found that the shortage of available childcare places has resulted in some day care centres in high-demand areas like the inner city charging hefty fees to join the waiting list.

For example, The Parenthood found that:

  • sixty percent of childcare centres in the in-demand suburb of Leichhardt, in Sydney's Inner West, charge a wait list fee, with fees ranging from $15 to $100 per child
  • just two out of 23 centres in the Western Sydney suburb of Penrith charge waiting list fees (around $10 and $50).

And it doesn't end there: preschools, after and before school-care services and private schools often charge wait list fees too.

Read the Ts & Cs

NSW Fair Trading encourages parents to carefully read the terms and conditions of wait list fees which are, in many cases, non-refundable. Fair Trading has had one report of a parent having been charged more than $400 for a place on the wait list of a childcare service that never opened.

The Parenthood is campaigning to ban wait list fees.

Quality childcare and education, especially in the year before kids start school, is important. According to a recent report by the Productivity Commission, benefits include:

  • better socialisation
  • help with transition to school
  • improved performance in the early years of primary school.

Wait list checklist

When it comes to childcare, there are many types of formal and informal options; beyond long day care centres. For example, family day care services, may offer much more affordable and very personalised care. Sharing a nanny with another family may be an option too.

If you do decide to sign up for a childcare centre wait list consider these points:

  • Ask the centre how many children are already on their wait list and how likely it is that your child will be offered a place.
  • Check if you're entitled for a refund if you aren't offered a childcare place after a set period.
  • Check for any terms and conditions and make sure you get a receipt for the fees and the agreement in writing.

Ask if there's anything that can help your chances – for example, with many day care services it can help if you stay in contact and check regularly if a place has become available.

Some parents have told CHOICE that once your child is ready to start childcare, visiting centres in person can help you secure a place.