How it works
Even though thousands of British companies offer childcare voucher schemes, awareness among staff of this is often woefully low, causing many parents to miss out. Notting Hill Housing, a large provider of affordable housing employing 700 staff, was one such company experiencing a slow take-up of its scheme. It realised it needed to communicate the benefit more clearly, encouraging male as well as female staff to sign up. The housing association asked its provider, Early Years Vouchers, to visit its head office to educate and spend time dispelling concerns about the complexity of the childcare voucher system. In July this year Amanda Ward, director of Early Years Vouchers, spent a day with HR staff and employees, running an induction and Q&A session to give a clear picture of how the system works and how much money can be saved. She explained to housing officers, and care assistants working in the company's care homes, how they could manage their own account online.
Employees can claim tax relief on up to £55 per week - £243 per month - for all forms of registered or Ofsted-approved childcare such as nurseries, childminders, playgroups, after-school care and holiday clubs. The main benefit is that voucher money comes off employees' gross pay, so savings are made on both National Insurance and income tax.
What it delivers
As a direct result of the induction day, Notting Hill Housing has achieved a 25% increase in sign-ons, and is particularly pleased that two male members of staff are among the beneficiaries. Staff can manage their own accounts and the 20 employees who currently benefit know they can change their voucher requirements or stated carer, for example, from a nursery to a nanny, via their password-accessed online account. Notting Hill Housing now ensures that working parents returning from maternity and paternity leave are told again about the scheme. Leaflets, posters and explanations at induction for new employees is keeping staff constantly informed, and the company is expecting better take-up in the future.
THE HR VIEW
- Matt Snipe is pay and benefits adviser at Notting Hill Housing.
He recognised that raising the profile of the childcare voucher scheme would lead to more employees saving money on childcare costs. "As a benefit, the scheme is now doing its job of helping us attract staff," says Snipe. He also believes that the benefit encourages employees who have to take maternity leave to return to work and keep their jobs. "Staff really are much more aware of the scheme and understand that it's easy to use once the online account is set up," he adds. The company saves on National Insurance contributions for each voucher claimed, but Notting Hill Housing does pay a small administration fee for every voucher issued. Admin is not a problem though, he says. "Administration time is kept to a minimum, thanks to the staff self-managing their accounts online," he explains, "and because of the way we are set up with Early Years Vouchers. My main task is emailing staff their vouchers, which they then print off for use."
THE EMPLOYEE VIEW
- Sarah Wells is senior repairs customer service officer at Notting Hill Housing.
Wells works full time for the organisation and she and her nine-year-old son attend both breakfast and after-school clubs. Her childcare costs range from £80 a month during school term time to £300 a month during the summer. Initially unsure of how she would benefit, she attended the July induction and spoke to Amanda Ward, who immediately signed her up. "I did need to check with my provider that they would accept the vouchers. However it wasn't a problem," says Wells. "As the money is taken directly from my pay, not only do I save on tax but I don't have the hassle of writing a cheque each month and waiting for it to be cashed, affecting my budget." Wells says she probably wouldn't have signed up without discussing her situation first. "Once the scheme had been explained, I was clearer and I could see that it would be beneficial to me. Even though I have relatively low childcare costs per month, any penny I can save helps, and with this scheme you can't lose."