Mum charged $55 for being one minute late for daycare pickup

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

No parent wants their kids to be the last waiting to be picked up at daycare.

But on top of the shame and guilt that come with turning up late, some parents also face hefty penalty fees.

One mum posted on a Facebook group about having to pay $55 for one minute of lateness, which she said seemed like "a lot".

Te Whare Ako childcare centre in Lower Hutt New Zealand is open from 7.30am to 5.30pm. The penalty fee if a child is picked up past closing time is a $20 flat rate, plus $35 for 1 to 30 minutes, and then $85 for 31 minutes to 1 hour. 

A centre spokeswoman says two parents have been charged under this policy this year.

One of those had had been late by one minute. Following discussions with the parent, the centre reduced the fee to $20.

"We don't charge it straight away. If someone is late getting their child, we'd certainly give them a chance first."

The staff work really hard to remind parents to pick up their child before closing hours, she says. 

Best Start Educare centres also have late fees of up to $25 per 15 minutes past closing time.

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Communications manager Rachel D'Cruz says centres are licensed for specific hours and are not allowed to operate outside of those.

"We understand that occasionally there might be late pickups and extenuating circumstances with lateness ... We know what it's like to be a parent facing rush hour traffic!

"However there are a minority of parents who are late as a matter of routine, and in that case a centre might apply the late fee, but this is usually a last resort and not a matter of routine."

The fee is based on costs to staff the centre outside of license hours with two teachers (at least one must be ECE certified and registered) at overtime rates, she says.

Child Forum Chief executive Sarah Alexander says charging a parent $55 for one minute of lateness is "outrageous".

Late fees are more common in corporate and large early childhood services and in understaffed centres. The typical charge is $1 per minute after the first 10 or 15 minutes, but some services have a flat fee of $20 to $25 and usually only if more than 10 or 15 minutes late, she says.

If circumstances are beyond a parent's control, most early childhood managers will waive the fine.

Many centres do not charge late fees because they focus on developing trustful and respectful relationships with parents.

"They would sooner the parent arrive late to collect their child than die speeding on the road."

Besides, fines don't always work to prevent parent lateness.

Research shows that if parents have the option to pay a late fee then they worry less about being late because they "can purchase more childcare without the guilt", Alexander says.

A late fee "undermines parents' sense of personal obligation to teachers to be on time".

Centres that do fine parents "have either not thought through how this will impact on their relationships with parents, are greedy, or can't cope with a child staying even a minute over time because of staff under-resourcing".

Consumer NZ head of research Jessica Wilson says contracts between parents and childcare centres are subject to the Fair Trading Act, which prohibits unfair terms in standard form consumer contracts.

Late fees could be considered unfair if they aren't adequately disclosed or are disproportionate to the costs incurred by the business, she says.

- Stuff