Childcare website glitch leaves families struggling

West familyImage copyright
Matthew West

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Matthew and Sarah say government childcare payments for their sons suddenly dried up

“It’s the difference between us being able to get by every month and actually struggling to put food on the table.”

Matthew West says a glitch on a government website means childcare payments for his two sons have dried up and the family are having to use credit cards to make ends meet.

They are among the many affected by continuing problems with the Childcare Service website.

HMRC says families may not realise that their eligibility has changed.

Matthew and his wife Sarah had been receiving funding from HM Revenue and Custom’s tax-free childcare scheme for Gabriel, nearly five, and two-year-old Sam.

Under the scheme, parents pay money into an online account for each child.

For every £8 from parents, the government contributes £2. The money is then paid to a registered childcare provider.

Parents have to re-register their children every three months.

Details ‘lost’

“It worked fine for us until we had to reconfirm our details,” said Matthew West.

But after reconfirming their eligibility, the couple suddenly found themselves no longer receiving the payment, they told BBC Radio Four’s Money Box programme.

The government’s contribution stopped for Gabriel, while Sam’s account appeared to be lost.

“We could see it, but HMRC couldn’t, and neither account was topping up,” said Matthew.

The couple, from Essex, repeatedly rang the Childcare Service helpline.

“They said it was a technical fault and there really wasn’t much they could do about it. Sarah was on the phone to them for weeks on end.

“I can imagine some people literally wanting to punch the computer screen because they’re so frustrated with the system. And in terms of talking to them on the phone, largely it’s just been shambolic.”

Software glitches

Raqhi Kakad of Birmingham told Money Box she was facing a similar problem.

She uses the Childcare Service website to access the government’s other subsidy scheme, which offers 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds in England.

After she reconfirmed her three-year-old son’s eligibility, she received an email saying her reconfirmation wasn’t valid and the 30 free hours would be withdrawn.

“I was a bit stumped because we still meet the eligibility criteria,” she said.

These issues follow the software glitches that plagued the website over the summer when parents faced problems registering for funding or accessing their accounts.

Last week the government announced it was suspending plans to roll out tax-free childcare funding to older children, so that it could “manage” the number of parents using the service.

HMRC says reconfirmation is not causing problems and that 177,000 people have successfully reconfirmed their eligibility.

The representative suggested that in some cases a family’s eligibility has changed without them realising.

In the past few days, an IT company has been advertising on Facebook for members of the public to be paid £50 to come and test the Childcare Service website.

In the advertisement, We Research said it was “desperate” for parents to come and help.

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HMRC confirmed the advert is genuine but it says it’s normal to have ongoing tests. The Facebook page has since been removed.

Tax expert Jamie Morrison from HW Fisher & Company says the government needs to have more realistic timelines for introducing services online.

“Increasingly more and more people are going to be pushed into dealing with the government digitally.

“The worry is that the systems cannot cope with the number of applicants and then fail. While the government can run all the tests that it wants to, it’s how the system performs live that’s often the problem,” he said.

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