A large number of parents have been hit by technical problems that continue to dog the government’s new Childcare Service website, a snapshot survey has revealed. Some parents were forced to pay twice for childcare last month, and others faced fines from their childminders.
Personal finance website MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) first revealed last month that parents were having technical problems using the site to sign up for the new Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours’ free childcare schemes, which began accepting applications in April.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which runs the site, insists the technical issues have been largely resolved.
Yet there have been continued reports of parents struggling to log on, use the site, or access money they’ve put into their account.
Netmums and MSE has conducted a joint survey of parents who’ve used the site. Of the more than 300 responses, over two-thirds encountered technical problems all or most of the time. Just 18% of those who managed to set up an account were able to use it without any problems.
Scale of the problem
While the survey’s only a snapshot based on a small sample, and those who’ve had problems with the site would’ve been more likely to complete it, the findings are the first indication of the scale of the problems that have been anecdotally reported for weeks. It means that many parents across the country are unable to take advantage of the government’s scheme, and many are losing out financially.
We launched the survey to gauge the extent of the problem after HMRC repeatedly refused to give any figures for the number of users who’ve had difficulties. While it’s impossible to extrapolate our survey’s findings to the wider population, 10,000s are known to have opened accounts via the site and the survey suggests a significant number may have encountered technical problems.
‘I’ve had to pay twice for childcare and lost the £77 I would have saved’
MSE has received plenty of complaints from parents who’ve struggled with the website.
Jayne Hynes, mum to a three-year old, told MSE that she tried to obtain an eligibility code for the 30 hours of free childcare 41 times in the first 10 days of June. She rang at different times of the day and called the helpline three times – her problem was only resolved last week (15 June 2017), after a 45-minute phone call with HMRC.
Tina Haigh, from east London, said: ‘It’s their response to the problem that makes it worse. They wasted a week fobbing me off implying that the problem was with my device/browser. Finally, when they did admit the problem, they promised nine times that the nursery would be paid. Nine times they weren’t.’
Tina said that after putting money into her account and being unable to access it, she was forced to pay her nursery and childminder separately. ‘So this month not only have I effectively had to pay twice for childcare, I also lost the £77 I would normally have saved through the salary sacrifice scheme,’ she said.
Emily Hardy from Dartford said she was struggling to make ends meet after putting money into her Tax-Free Childcare account and being unable to access it, meaning she had to find more money to pay her childcare bills.
‘My total childcare costs are £1,634 per month,’ she said. ‘There’s not much of my wage left after the costs … I am starting to use credit cards to get by now.
‘I have phoned the childcare service helpline around eight times and spent about 30 minutes on each call. Each time I am told that they have raised a ticket for the issue or that a manager will call me back. No one ever does.’