ith the aim of boosting the birth rate, creating better conditions for children's development and enhancing solutions for reconciling work with family and personal life, in 2022 the government established the measure of free daycare centres for children up to the age of 3.
Initially covering only public kindergartens/daycare centres, the measure was extended to private ones at the beginning of 2023, as a result of the lack of places available in public daycare.
It's applicable to all children born on or after September 1st, 2021, and also to some children born before that date, depending on a couple factors. The "Creche Feliz" programme relieves family budgets, which is a very positive thing, especially in the context of a general increase in the cost of living.
How does this free childcare programme work? How can families access this benefit? What about daycare centres? Clarify all your questions about "Creche Feliz" in this blog post.
What is the "Creche Feliz" programme?
The "Creche Feliz" programme provides free access for children (aged 0 to 3) born on or after September 1st, 2021, to daycare centres in the social and solidarity sector, to Social Security nannies, and to daycare centres in the private network. The measure also applies to children born before that date, whose families are in the 1st and 2nd income brackets of the family contribution, in daycare centres in the social and solidarity network.
The programme was developed to combat child poverty, promoting full integration and equal access to opportunities for all children, regardless of their socio-economic background. The programme also aims to support families in reconciling personal, family and professional life.
This programme is regulated by Law n.º 198/2022 (changed by the Law n.º 304/2022 and by the Law n.º 75/2023). Initially, the measure only covered public sector daycare centres. When the Law n.º 305/2022, applicable since January 1st, 2023, came into force, the free childcare programme started to apply also to daycare centres belonging to the private network, when there are no free places in daycare centres belonging to the solidarity network. The criteria for defining the lack of free places in the social and solidarity network were defined in Order n.º 14837-E/2022.
In order to make it easier to check the list of free daycare centres and get information about them, a mobile app was developed Creche Feliz app, available for iOS and Android, where you can check the daycare centres with free vacancies available in the area where you live or work, and also apply for free places if you choose a daycare centre from the private network.
Who can have access to free childcare? For how long can someone have access to it?
Childcare is free for all children born on or after September 1st, 2021, who attend family daycare centres, Social Security nannies and public sector daycare centres, or private sector daycare centres when they are on the list of daycare centres participating in the programme.
In the case of children born before September 1st, 2021, the gratuity measure applies to those whose families are in the 1st and 2nd income brackets of the family contribution, in the daycare centres of the social and solidarity network.
The "Creche Feliz" programme is meant to be implemented gradually. According to Law n.º 2/2022, the gratuity measure applies to:
- In 2022, to all children entering the first year of daycare;
- In 2023, to all children entering the first year of daycare and children moving on to the 2nd year;
- In 2024, to all children entering the first year of daycare and to children moving on to the 2nd and 3rd year.
Free childcare continues for as long as the child attends daycare, i.e. up to the age of 3.
How to request free daycare?
The request for free daycare is made in the Creche Feliz app, where you can check the list of participating daycare centres (including those in the private sector). Depending on whether or not the child already attends a daycare centre on the list of participating daycare centres, the request is made differently:
Requesting free daycare for a child who already attends a participating daycare centre:
- Fill out a form together with the person in charge of the daycare centre (to prove that the child attends the daycare centre and qualifies for support);
- The daycare centre must request a code, which must be shared with the person with parental responsibilities, so that they can use it within the next 48 hours when applying for free daycare;
- In the Creche Feliz app, choose the daycare centre your child attends and select the "Request free childcare" option;
- Enter the information about the child and the code provided by the daycare centre, and submit the request.
The parent receives the e-mail with all the information and the daycare centre is notified that the code has been used for the free childcare request. The request is analysed and the answer is communicated by Social Security office to the parent.
Request free daycare for a child who does not yet attend a participating daycare centre:
- In the Creche Feliz app, search for vacancies in daycare centres in the area where you live or work;
- Select the right daycare room for the child's age;
- Request the issue of a code signalling agreement to enrol the child;
- Register as an applicant in the app, select the daycare centre of your choice, and "Request free childcare";
- Enter the information about the child and the code, and submit the request.
The parent receives the e-mail with all the information and the daycare centre is notified that the code has been used to apply for free childcare. Once the application has been analysed, the Social Security office informs the parent of the decision.
If there are no free places in the search, the parents must fill in a form to indicate their interest in a vacancy at the daycare centre.
From the moment a child is offered a free vacancy, they are guaranteed to continue attending the same centre for the following three school years (or up to the age of 3), as long as this is the express wish of the parents or those with parental responsibilities. Although it is possible for a daycare centre to leave the network of member daycare centres, this continuity is also guaranteed in these situations.
What costs are included in free childcare? And how is the support paid?
Once they are covered by the programme, families will have the support of the Social Security system, which will cover the following costs:
- Activities and services usually provided by daycare centres (nutrition, pedagogical, play and motor skills activities, among others);
- Food, including special diets, as prescribed by a doctor;
- All costs inherent to the enrolment process and insurance;
- The frequency of extended hours and weekly extensions.
The support for each child is paid directly to the daycare centre from the month following approval of the application. The amount paid for each child is 460€, and the family cannot be charged any other amount, with the exception of the expenses not included in the programme and described below.
What costs are not included in free childcare?
The Creche Feliz programme does not include the payment of:
- Activities outside the educational project, of an optional nature, which the institutions wish to develop and in which the parents or legal representatives enrol the children;
- Purchase of diapers and school uniforms;
- Transport and other optional services;
- Amounts payable for booking a vacancy, in the form of a deposit (no more than 25 euros), which is returned when the service contract is signed.
Who has priority access to free childcare?
According to Law n.º 198/2022, vacancies are allocated on the basis of the social and economic assessment of the household, as well as the following criteria, which dictate who has priority:
- Children who attended the daycare centre in the previous year;
- Children with disabilities;
- Children of underage students;
- Children in foster care;
- Children with siblings who attend the same institution;
- Children who are beneficiaries of the social benefit “Garantia para a Infância” (“Guarantee for Childhood") and/or the family allowance for children and young people (1st and 2nd brackets) whose guardians live or work in the area of influence of social response (daycare centre, family daycare centre, and nanny);
- Children from large or single-parent families who live in the area of influence of the social response;
- Children whose families live in the area of influence of the social response;
- Children from large or single-parent families who work in the area of influence of the social response;
- Children whose guardians work in the area of influence of the social response.
Each daycare centre can only accept the number of children corresponding to the number of vacancies it is authorised to offer. If there are no vacancies available in the area of residence, the daycare centre can take in up to two more children for each existing room.
At least 30 per cent of the vacancies allocated free of charge are for children covered by the social benefit “Garantia para a Infância” or who receive family allowance up to the 3rd bracket.
Also according to Law n.º 198/2022, "children with promotion and protection measures, applied by the child and youth protection committees (CPCJ) or by the courts, with an indication to attend daycare, have compulsory access and admission to the daycare centre, even if an extra vacancy has to be created for this purpose".
Can I choose the daycare centre where I enrol my child?
If there are vacancies in the solidarity daycare network, families can choose the daycare centre where they want their child to be cared for.
If there are no vacancies in the solidarity network, families can choose the private daycare centre they prefer from the list of participating private daycare centres.
Is it possible to transfer enrolment from a social sector daycare centre to a private sector one?
As a general rule, children who benefit from the free childcare measure in a social sector daycare centre cannot be transferred to the private sector and continue to benefit from the measure. However, there are two exceptions, according to article 5.º of Law n.º 305/2022, namely:
- When there is a change in or to the municipality of residence or place of work of the parents or of the person with parental responsibilities;
- When the child has sibling(s) attending a participating daycare centre to which the child is transferred.
There are already vacancies in the social sector. Is it compulsory to transfer from a private to a public sector daycare centre?
Children benefiting from the free childcare measure in private sector daycare centres will be able to continue in the same establishment, even if, in the meantime, vacancies open up in social sector daycare centres in their area of residence, since the Creche Feliz programme prioritises stability.
How can daycare centres join the programme?
Daycare centres in the social network are automatically covered by the free childcare measure. As far as private sector daycare centres are concerned, and according to article 3.º of Law n.º 305/2022, in order to be included on the list of participating daycare centres and receive children under this measure, they must express their interest by filling in a form to join it.
The application is assessed by the Social Security Institute, I.P. (ISS, I.P.), which checks if the daycare centre meets the conditions to be included in the list of participating daycare centres, namely that its tax and social security situation has been regularised (it has no debts to the Portuguese government) and that its installation and operating conditions comply with the applicable legislation.
After the assessment, and once the necessary requirements have been met, the establishment will be informed that it has been included in the list of participating daycare centres.
Where can you find the list of free daycare centres?
In January 2023, Social Security made available on its website a list of vacancies in nurseries e uma list of vacancies for children that already know how to walk and are under 24 months old.
However, the best way to check the list of free daycare centres is via the Creche Feliz app, available for iOS and Android. In the app, you can check which daycare centres have free vacancies and also see their location and contact details.
Creche Feliz, a programme that is insufficient for the number of children in Portugal
According to data released by the Portuguese government in March 2023, around 53,000 children were attending free daycare centres, 3,000 of whom in the private sector.
On the other hand, the Association of Daycare Centres and Small Private Educational Establishments (ACPEEP) reported in April 2023 that there were more than 80,000 children without a vacancy in free daycare centres.
Despite the existence of the Creche Feliz programme, there are not enough vacancies available in daycare centres to cater for the number of children in Portugal. "Although this shortage already existed, it has become much more acute with the greater mobility of families, especially for professional reasons, with the arrival of more emigrants to our country (...), with a slight increase in the birth rate in 2022, and also with an increasing number of single-parent families and families without family support," explains ACPEEP.
In June 2023, Sandra Batista, president of the aforementioned association, emphasised the seriousness of the problem, saying that "there is a great lack of daycare centres provision for the existing demand" and that "free daycare centres have only revealed this deficiency".
Coverflex Childcare, an answer for all families
For families who miss out on this state support, there are solutions that can be considered, particularly with employers.
Portuguese law provides tax benefits for companies that offer their employees childcare vouchers.
The childcare voucher is a social voucher offered by companies to their employees, used to pay for the costs of daycare centres, kindergartens and nurseries for their children aged up to 7 years old. The company pays these costs directly to the educational institution.
Besides providing extra help for families, the childcare voucher has other advantages, namely:
- Exemption from IRS (variable rate) and Social Security tax (11%) for the employee;
- TSU exemption for the company (23.75%);
- 40% cost markup for corporate income tax, with no maximum limit.
The Coverflex Childcare voucher has a network of over 1800 accredited schools and differs from other childcare vouchers as it has lowest commission on the market - just 2%, unlike the commissions of other issuers, which vary between 3% and 7%. It can also be issued autonomously and digitally, in less than 3 minutes, directly on the platform, in a very simple process.
Check out the Coverflex Childcare page to learn more.