One provider said a parent went to validate her eligibility this month, three months after receiving her 30-hour code, and was told by the Childcare Service, run by HMRC, that they did not need to as the code is valid for a year.
Under the 30-hours policy, parents are required to reconfirm their eligibility every three months. If they fail to do so they enter a grace period before falling out of eligibility.
Writing on Facebook, the provider said, ‘Now (I) have to battle with the parent to get them to re-do it so they don’t lose out through the incompetence of HMRC.’
It is the latest in a string of problems experienced by early years settings and parents using the Childcare Service since its launch in April. In August, HMRC apologised to parents for the difficulties they have faced accessing the service.
Childcare providers are also reporting that a lot of parents are unware they have to revalidate their eligibility and many are not receiving notification from the Childcare Service when they need to do so. Because of this, many nurseries are sending reminders to parents.
Parents should receive an e-mail or text to remind them to reconfirm their eligibility every three months.
One provider on Facebook said, ‘I have just had to send out an e-mail to my parents as four of them forgot to re-validate, which in theory (means) they now can’t have it. The local authority is going to allow it this term, but from January they won’t.’
She added, ‘Apparently they (parents) should get a text or e-mail to remind them, but it hasn’t happened. Other parents are just more organised and noted the date. It’s just too time consuming as far as I’m concerned.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive, Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'It’s incredibly concerning that, having launched less than a month ago, the 30 hours offer is already causing so many problems for parents.
'Not only are many parents still struggling to access their online childcare accounts, but we’re also now hearing reports of others who have missed the deadline to reconfirm their eligibility for the offer because the reminder message they were promised by Government never arrived. Add to this the fact that many families are still struggling to actually secure a 30-hours place due to a lack of provider take-up in their area, and the significant proportion of parents facing unexpected additional fees and charges for an offer that Government continues to promote as a ‘free’, and it’s clear that this scheme is in real trouble.
'Government needs to get a grip on this policy, and invest what’s needed in terms of both adequate provider funding levels and a robust IT infrastructure, if it is to have any chance of keeping the promise that it made to parents.'
There have been similar issues with the Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) system, also run by the Childcare Service.
One parent told Nursery World she was prompted by the online system to confirm her eligibility for TFC less than a month after her account was approved.
Like the 30 hours, parents using TFC must confirm their eligibility every three months and should receive a reminder from HMRC by e-mail or text to do so.
Nursery World has also learnt that childcare providers are being contacted by HMRC to sign up to TFC despite already being registered and a user of the system.
Nursery owners in Cambridge, Spalding, Brighton and Leatherhead have all received letters from HMRC asking if they want to join the Tax-Free Childcare scheme.
Keith Appleyard, treasurer of Fiveways Play Centre in Brighton, said, ‘My admin manager advised me yesterday we’ve received a letter from HM Gov asking us if we want to join the Tax-Free Childcare scheme. This is interesting considering we have been enrolled since February, had one parent paying us every month since April, and another one started in September.’
A straw poll by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) of nearly 300 nursery managers carried out last month, revealed that 20 per cent were still confused about nursery registration requirements for Tax-Free Childcare.
A spokesperson for HMRC told Nursery World that some reconfirmation reminders were delayed and affected parents have been contacted to remind them to reconfirm.
They added, 'We are regularly reviewing our guidance and processes to ensure consistecy and to improve the quality of our customer service.
On Tax-Free Childcare, the HMRC spokesperson said, 'A small number of parents have experiencd delays in accessing their account. This may mean that the parent receives a reminder to reconfirm sooner than they expect. We are writing to these parents.'