The shambles of ‘tax free childcare’

Returning to work after maternity leave is stressful and at the end of my first working week back, all I wanted to do was snuggle on the sofa with my son, read him stories and maybe watch some nursery rhymes on YouTube (it was a tiring week). Instead I found myself on the phone to the government’s childcare hotline, discussing the new tax free childcare scheme (or rather the fact that I was having numerous problems with the scheme), while my son got hold of my M&S chocolate (again) and smeared it on the sofa.

What’s the scheme?

Tax free childcare was introduced as a replacement for the salary sacrifice childcare voucher scheme that is slowly be phased out. It is being phased in for families where a parent’s individual income is under £100,000. In essence the government will pay £2 in every £8 of childcare costs up to a total of £2,000 per child, per year. With childcare costs in the U.K. being astronomical, it seemed like a helpful scheme so I signed up. 

What’s the problem?

Now I’m not usually the most organised person but in an attempt to make my return to work as stress free as possible, I signed up a few weeks in advance and made sure the money was in my online account so that my childcare provider could be paid. 

The only problem was that despite my one off excellent organisational skills (not easy when you are a stressed out mum of a 10.5 month old and over emotional about returning to work), each time I attempted to make a payment to my childcare provider, the website said there was a technical error and to call the helpline. I called the helpline on numerous occasions and was told that they couldn’t help me as their systems were down! 

Finally, three days before I was due to return to work, I called and insisted on speaking to a manager who got the system to work and told me that actually, my payment had been set up to leave my account however it would take three working days to go into my childcare provider’s account from the date that I had requested the payment to be made. No where on the website did it tell me this was the case so I had arranged for the payment to be made on the day it was due. 

I was obviously annoyed, however I was told that the payment would be with my provider on 3rd August and it was quicker to let it go than to cancel it and try to get it through earlier. I lodged a complaint about the lack of information and emailed my provider to tell them that it would reach them a little late this month. I was very apologetic and they were very understanding. 

The 3rd August arrived and I was told that my payment had still not reached my childcare provider. I again apologised and called the helpline. So began a telephone exchange which totalled more than two hours where I was told:

  • My payment had been made but it was what was known as a ‘stuck payment’. I was told that the only way to resolve this was for a CHAPS payment to be made which allows for the money to be transferred instantly. However to get this I would have to ‘be really forceful’ with another department. The guy I spoke to was lovely but really, why do I have to be forceful to get money to my childcare provider, 80% of which belonged to me in the first place?
  • My payment had been made. My childcare provider had received it and proof of the BACS could be requested and received within 24 hours. Now my childcare provider is a national chain of nurseries. It seems unlikely they are lying to me about this!
  • My payment hadn’t previously been made but has now been made and would be with me with my provider within another three to five working days. 
  • In addition to these very confusing and mixed messages, I was told that complaints had been logged when they hadn’t and I also currently can’t login to my online account to view any information. 

    So as of 8.45pm at the end of my first week back at work, this is where I stand. That is, I don’t actually know where I stand! I know that my childcare provider hasn’t been paid. I know my childcare provider may require me to pay for my childcare again before reimbursing me when the money arrives from the childcare scheme. (This would leave me almost £1,000 out of pocket until the government get their act together). I don’t know where my money is currently at. Oh and I have a chocolate covered sofa to deal with because I was too busy trying to sort out my childcare payment to notice my son smearing chocolate everywhere!

    I would always expect teething problems with a scheme of this magnitude and it is perhaps just unfortunate that children of my son’s age are the first that can be registered for the scheme so it is those parents who are suffering through the initial confusion. What I wouldn’t expect is to be repeatedly given contradictory information from different people providing the same scheme. It has made an other wise pretty smooth return to work incredibly stressful, at a time where mum-guilt about leaving my son is at its highest.

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    2 thoughts on “The shambles of ‘tax free childcare’

      1. Awful I’m afraid. Every month has been at least one different problem. Most often they just don’t bother paying my childcare provider. The latest issue is you have to reconfirm you are still eligible every three months. I did this in plenty of time, only the system had some sort of glitch meaning it thinks I didn’t. The whole thing is awful.

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