ACT Withdrawal Fees by School - What are Grounds for Invalidation?

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19 August 2015
Hi all -

Question: Can early withdrawal fees be imposed by the school - in all instances? What are the grounds for invalidating this?


I withdrew my child out of an early childhood centre (run by a christian school) after two days' care.

Reasons for withdrawing him after only two days was due to genuine concern over security. On the first day we went to collect him, no one noticed us, no one spoke to us - we could have up and left with him without any acknowledgment from staff. At the time, this upset me and worried me so much, that I sought out someone who worked there to explain how upset I was. In hindsight, I wished I had left with him and waited for them to notice... this would have proved the security flaw at their centre.

The next day (at the end of his second day in care) I took in a written letter which outlined my reasons for withdrawing him. I could not risk leaving him there when we had such concerns. I withdrew him and put him back into his previous child care centre - so it is not like we moved, or I found a better child care centre.

I also emailed their accounts area asking them not to charge my credit card and I rescinded any written authorisation already provided to them.

I had paid a substantial 'waiting list fee' even though there was no waiting list for his age group. I also paid an 'enrolment acceptance fee' - both of these are non-refundable. (I had also paid a 'waiting list fee' for his older brother - what a waste of money). Of course, I also signed a contract which outlined OUR obligations as parents - which included a 4 week notice period for withdrawing a child from care. We had made a big monetary commitment just to get him in to the child care centre, by paying these non-refundable fees!

As part of my letter notifying the school of withdrawal, I asked that they waive the 4 week notice period fee - given the unique circumstances. It took one month for the principal to have her investigation and she concluded that our version of events was different to that of the staff. She insisted on still enforcing the 4 week waiting waiting notice fee.

This has been so stressful. The ACT education dept could not assist, as they dd not get involved with fees policy... and seemed unconcerned with my complaint. The school then charged my credit card, despite my rescinded authorisation. They did apologise and credit my account. I then cancelled my card as there was no way I was paying this ludicrous (almost $2000 withdrawal fee).

I would have thought the school would have been understanding, given our experience - especially given it is a Christian school, and waive the notice period - however I was wrong. After already having paid over $1000 in those non refundable fees - they have now referred this outstanding debt to a debt collector. Both my husband and I have never ever had debt collectors chasing us - and I am shocked that they think they have the right to just decide or insinuate we were making this all up. This is all over TWO days of care - and this is mediocre care (in our experience) at best. What about their obligations? Can they really legally impose this withdrawal fee in this instance?

Any advice - even if it is, suck it up - would be appreciated. THANK YOU


Hi katecanberra,

I'm not 100% sure whether the Australian Consumer Law would apply to independent school fees, (I assume it does), however, that legislation prevents unfair contractual terms and also provides statutory guarantees that the services provided are fit for the purpose and carried out with due care. Ultimately what you have contracted to, you have to fulfil including any cancellation fees (provided they are not disproportionate to the loss experienced by the school as a result of your withdrawal), however you may be able to argue that they have breached one or more implied warranties by not taking due care for your child's safety and/or providing a service that is fit for purpose - you send your child to them to be looked after, and failing to do this properly defeats the purpose of sending the child to child care).

I would call the state body administering the Australian Consumer Law in your state and see what they have to say.