Families in the Byron Shire have been shocked and upset to find out that Council’s accounting system has had a huge glitch, which is costing some of them thousands of dollars.
One family, who asked to remain anonymous, say they recently received a bill for almost $2,000.
‘They said something went wrong with their accounting last year – they didn’t say what. A lot of people didn’t get their bills. I tried emailing them a bunch of times, but emails either never got to where they were meant to go, or there was no place for it to go’.
The family say they spoke to a few other parents last week, and many said they had also recently been contacted by Council and had to square up billing. ‘A lot still haven’t heard anything and are a bit scared of what’s coming.
Council staff say they recently identified a shortfall in its expected income for the Outside School Hours Care (OSHC), and discovered problems with some of the invoices issued for that service, and their vacation care programs, provided at the Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads public schools.
Investigations revealed a number of outstanding accounts and that this was because some invoices had been sent to incorrect addresses and some families were unaware they had to make payment.
Council staff say they have been contacting families to notify them and work with them to organise payment and ensure contact details are current.
Director Corporate and Community Services, Vanessa Adams, said she apologises to the families who have been caught up in this administrative error.
‘Unfortunately, some families have not been billed or received bills for services and as a result, a small number of families owe a significant amount. We are working with them to set up flexible arrangements for payment plans.
‘This has understandably come as a shock to some parents and carers and we are very sorry for any distress this has caused,’ said Ms Adams.
Council is now overhauling its administrative processes in relation to its Childcare Services portfolio to ensure this sort of thing does not happen again.
‘Again, we are very sorry that this situation has occurred – it simply isn’t good enough,’ said Ms Adams.
Council provides after-school and vacation care services to nearly 400 families in the Byron Shire.
The family says all they want is reliable efficient billing, and admin communications is vital. ‘We all need to be able to budget, and life here is getting more expensive all the time. Trying to balance the bills is impossible if these things can’t be managed effectively by Council. We need regular frequent billing and reliable points of contact for billing.
‘They [Council] say they are doing this going forward as they have someone sorting it out, but how the hell did they muck it up so badly for so long?
‘They never sent us a bill. There were clearly people at their end that weren’t doing their job or something, as I kept trying to update my email address, but nothing ever happened. I know others who haven’t got bills. They never tried to send us anything in the mail to follow up. They just did nothing. It’s like there was no-one at the billing end and now there is. Lots of us thought it was because the government paid for childcare during COVID-19 last year, and then just waited to see what would happen next.’
The family say that the onus is now on the families to prove Council’s accounting is wrong.
‘They say they have now got someone new on the case trying to get all the accounts up to date, but we now have a bill for $1,800! They have said we can work out some kind of payment plan, but first I have to check all of their accounting as they often get it wrong.
‘I now have to go through 18 months of afterschool care records to correct their broken accounting, or just pay for it. This is Robodebt childcare!’