More private schools are paying back the Government's Covid-19 wage subsidy after they discovered they should not have received any money.
The schools said the subsidy scheme was confusing and that they sought the money in good faith.
And some of those who still qualify for the wage subsidy say they have been unfairly criticised for claiming Government support.
Unlike state schools, the Government did not guarantee the wages of independent and private school staff when they were closed for the national lockdown in March.
These schools say they were encouraged by the Government to apply for the wage subsidy if they predicted a 30 per cent loss as a result of Covid-19.
Nineteen schools claimed money through the scheme. But after the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) clarified the criteria last week, some of these schools found that they did not qualify. At least three private schools are now paying the money back.
Associate Education Minister Jenny Salesa said MSD had advised that businesses had to lose 30 per cent of revenue overall to qualify for the scheme, not 30 per cent within one part of the business - such as a boarding facility or night school.
A spokesman for the minister said schools were encouraged to check their eligibility for the scheme before applying.
Diocesan principal Heather McRae, whose school had received $173,748, said that parts of the wage subsidy scheme were "confusing".
The Epsom school applied for the subsidy to cover salaries at its swim school and boarding school, both of which closed during lockdown.
However, last week the Ministry of Social Development informed them that the 30 per cent loss had to occur across the whole school to qualify for the subsidy.
"Our claim for the subsidy was made in good faith, and we have continued to pay the staff in boarding and the swim school throughout the lockdown and have not charged parents fees in these areas," McRae said in a letter to parents last week.
"However, in light of the clarification of the scheme, Dio will be repaying the amount back to the Government."
Kristin School in Albany also said it would be paying back the $172,910 it received through the scheme. Executive principal Mark Wilson said it only sought support based on losses at its daycare centre, Little Doves, and not the school as a whole. This meant it did not qualify.
Wilson noted that the confusion around eligibility for the scheme was not limited to private schools, and had affected all businesses.
So far, more than 3200 New Zealand businesses have paid back a total of $83.4 million in wage subsides after either faring better than expected, or discovering they did not qualify for it.
As previously reported, St Cuthbert's College in Epsom paid back 90 per cent of the $1.92 million it received, saying that it was keeping the rest to cover its swim school and boarding losses. It said this week it would pay back the rest of the money, following the MSD clarification.
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Many schools still qualified for the wage subsidy and would not be repaying the money.
They included St Peters School in Cambridge, which claimed $2.1m and said it was on track to lose more well over 30 per cent of its revenue.
John Fiso, the chairman of Porirua-based school Whitby Collegiate, said his school needed the subsidy because many parents were unable to pay fees and had deferred their payments.
Private schools had been unfairly criticised for getting Government help, he said.
"People have said 'Why are you applying for the subsidy? You guys are the rich ones'.
"It's an unfair assessment. If you look at this area, the parents are mostly from small businesses. It's not the big corporates."
Whitby Collegiate is in a precarious position. Fiso bought the school last year to save it from financial collapse, and it reopened just before Covid-19 arrived in New Zealand.
Fiso said he expected the biggest financial impact would arrive in Terms 3 and 4, when the subsidy had run out and the impact of a drop in enrolments and fee payments was felt.
Independent Schools of NZ executive director Deborah James said the number of schools who had paid back their subsidy was not known. Many of them were still assessing the impact of the pandemic, she said.
"Most private schools will feel the true impact in 2021 and beyond, with a potential decrease in enrolments and possible withdrawal of students as parents have more certainty around their employment and economic circumstances."
PRIVATE SCHOOL SUBSIDIES
• North Island
ACG Strathallan (Auckland): $126,444 for 20 staff
ACG Sunderland (Auckland): $42,177 for 6 staff
ACG Tauranga (Tauranga): $28,118 for 4 staff
Chilton St James School (Lower Hutt): $394,761 for 63 staff
Diocesan School for Girls (Auckland): $173,748 for 38 staff - money repaid
Ficino School (Auckland): $261,376.80 for 40 staff
Hereworth School (Havelock North): $274,065 for 41 staff
Huntley School (Marton): $249,969.60 for 42 staff
Kristin School (Auckland): $172,910 for 25 staff - money repaid
Queen Margaret College (Wellington): $866,937 for 135 staff
Scots College (Wellington): $1,169,210 for 178 staff
Southwell School (Hamilton): $681,604 for 103 staff
St Cuthberts College (Auckland): $1,924,867 for 302 staff - money repaid
St Peters School (Cambridge): $2,152,910 for 328 staff
UP International College (Auckland): $476,553 for 69 staff
Whitby Collegiate (Porirua): $188,340 for 28 staff
• South Island
Christ's College (Christchurch) $1,077,736 for 167 staff
Rangi Ruru Girls School (Christchurch): $1,010,359 for 155 staff
Waihi School (South Canterbury): $200,940 for 31 staff