Parents are ''centre hopping'' to avoid paying skyrocketing childcare fees, with 85 per cent of centres being burnt by these parents who still claim the 50 per cent government childcare subsidy.
A survey of 700 childcare operators by industry website CareforKids also found two-thirds of centres had employed debt collectors to chase down parents, with one centre reporting it was $600,000 out of pocket.
Childcare centres want parents who do not pay their bills to be blacklisted from the industry and are calling on the federal government to pay the childcare rebate directly to them to eliminate the potential for fraud.
Australian Childcare Alliance president Gwynn Bridge said bad debts were growing as childcare became more unaffordable.
''The debts are really increasing,'' Ms Bridge said. ''It seems families aren't coping financially.''
Childcare fees have risen 7 per cent a year in the past decade, more than double the rate of inflation. Fees are$130 a day or more in certain suburbs of Melbourne.
''The cost of childcare has gone up substantially,'' CareforKids founder Roxanne Elliot said. ''Parents are looking to see what they can do and they're being quite unscrupulous about it.'' . The federal government will spend $6.5 billion on childcare this financial year, including $2.4 billion on the childcare rebate and $2.6 billion on the childcare benefit.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said she was ''very sympathetic'' to the industry's concerns about bad debts. ''There's no doubt families are doing it tough at the moment and it doesn't help childcare fees skyrocketed 50 per cent under Labor, but there's no excuse for parents deliberately ducking their bills,'' Ms Ley said.
Services warn that centre hopping forces them to put up fees for other parents, and is also unsettling for the children.
To stamp out the problem, operators are calling for a debt register of parents who skip centres without paying their bills.
However, childcare experts said a name-and-shame register would likely contravene privacy laws, and there was too much potential for it to be abused.
The industry also wants the government to pay the childcare rebate, which covers the cost of 50 per cent of childcare fees up to $7500, straight to services instead of parents. Sixty per cent of parents receive the childcare rebate directly, with the balance opting for the payment to go straight to services.
The story Childcare industry call for parent blacklist with rise of fee dodging first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.