Thursday, 31 January 2013

Busy Bees Benefits Makes Employees Life Sweeter


Here at BusyBees Benefits we love exhibiting at shows where we get to meet new people, talk to customers and speak to other industry suppliers.

Last September we exhibited at Employee Benefits Live which was at the prestigious London Olympia Conference Centre.   Employee Benefits Live is Europe’s largest reward and benefits event to showcase industry specialists.

(Pictured above: some of the Busy Bees Benefits team)

As well as giving visitors to our stand our famous honey pots and honey dippers, we also ran a competition for one lucky winner to win a meal cooked in their own home for 6 people by a professional chef.  The competition went down really well and the lucky winner was Elle Gates from Spire Automotive.

(Pictured above: Elle Gates [third from right], Andy [centre] and guests)

Elle was over the moon when we notified her of her prize.  We agreed a date for the meal and Andy, the chef, put together some menu options for her to choose from.



The menu Elle chose was:
Starter – a homemade leek and potato soup with crusty rolls (Elle confessed she doesn’t have an ambitious palate and wanted something conservative).
Main – Rack of lamb, minted dauphinoise potatoes, beetroot and raspberry puree, sautĂ© peas with a red wine reduction.
Dessert – Chocolate tart, raspberry dust and pistachio ice cream.





The evening was a huge success; Elle said “we had such a great evening, Andy and Lucy were just such lovely people to talk to.  It really felt like I had my friends to come round and cook for me as a treat and then wash up too!  The food was absolutely superb.”

Elle continued “my husband and I are not terribly adventurous at trying new dishes but Andy really catered to my tastes with really good wholesome comfort food!  My mouth still waters at the thought.”

The meal was such as hit with Elle and her friends that she wants Andy to come back again so she can try his speciality dish – pork belly!  (And some more of his homemade chocolates!)



Elle contacted us after the evening to send her thanks for her wonderful prize.

Busy Bees Benefits will be exhibiting at Employee Benefits Live again this year and will have another fantastic prize to give away.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Emergency Childcare - The Perfect Answer



Thousands of schools have been closed across the UK during the last week due to the snow and cold weather.  It is believed that one in six schools is thought to have been affected by the weather* with heating problems and unsafe conditions on school grounds. 

Some parents have had prior warning of their child’s school being closed, others have been notified the morning of the closure and some have even chosen to close after school started.  This has caused childcare issues for parents all over the country.  What do you do when your child’s school is suddenly closed and you are just about to walk out of the door to work or you get a text message to say “the school is closing, please pick up your child”?

Some parents have family or friends they can rely on to help out in emergency situations, some have employers allowing them to work from home or take the day off as holiday or unpaid leave, however is this ideal?  The perfect answer is for parents to use Emergency Childcare to seek last minute childcare for their children when their usual childcare provider is unavailable or school is closed. 

There are several different companies offering this service, some employers even offer Emergency Childcare as an employee benefit to help reduce absenteeism and untold stress for employees.  Busy Bees Benefits, an employee benefits provider offers an Emergency Childcare service to parents using their Childcare Voucher scheme.  As part of the Busy Bees Group, the largest childcare provider in the UK, operating over 200 nurseries, Busy Bees Benefits understands the importance of providing reliable childcare.  The Emergency Childcare service allows parents to seek childcare in one of the Busy Bees nurseries almost anywhere in the country.

Every Busy Bees nursery is specifically designed to suit the needs of each child, with large, bright playrooms and outdoor play areas.  Choosing to use Emergency Childcare over childcare provided by friends or family ensures children still get the educational stimulation they need.

How does it work?
When parents need to use the Emergency Childcare service, whether it is last minute or in advance, they can contact Busy Bees Benefits to book a place at the nursery setting closest to their home, place of work or wherever is most convenient to them**.  Parents then simply take their child to the desired nursery and pay the fees upon receipt of invoice.  Fees can be paid using Busy Bees Benefits Childcare Vouchers and by doing this an additional 5% credit will be added on top of their voucher value.

Next time your child’s school is closed or your childcare provider is unavailable, use the Busy Bees Benefits Emergency Childcare service – the perfect answer for your emergency situation.  For more information about Busy Bees Nurseries and Busy Bees Benefits Emergency Childcare please visit www.busybees.com.


Notes

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Government to Make Changes to Help Families with Childcare Costs




The UK is eagerly awaiting an announcement by the government about plans to change the help parents receive to pay their childcare costs by introducing a new system to replace the £700 million Childcare Voucher scheme.

The Childcare Voucher scheme is free for the government to administer.  Therefore, the question on everyone’s mind is ‘why is the government suggesting spending money on introducing a new system when the current Childcare Voucher scheme is a confirmed success’?  The main reason the government is making changes is to rebalance the help parents receive with their childcare costs and to give parents the incentives to go to work. Currently only employed working parents, both mums and dads, are entitled to use Childcare Vouchers, providing by doing so they are not taken under the National Minimum Wage limit.  However, it has been proven that Childcare Vouchers are a great method for encouraging parents into work.  In a recent survey by Busy Bees Benefits, 1 in 3 parents, when asked “Do you believe the provision of Childcare Vouchers influenced your decision to return to work or remain with your current employer after you had a family?” answered “yes”.

Busy Bees Benefits CEO, John Woodward said “rather than introduce a totally new system and discarding one which already works, the ideal solution would be to for the government to make changes to the current Childcare Voucher scheme, which would be more beneficial to both parents and the economy.”
One question we would like answering is; how will this new system work and how will the government monitor where and how parents are spending the money?  Payments to childcare providers are traceable under the established Childcare Voucher scheme and carers find receiving payments “simple and straightforward”*

The current Childcare Voucher scheme ensures that parents use only registered providers, making regular checks to certify their registration, ensuring the safety of using a particular provider and the quality of care children will receive.  Will the new system have a regulation process to ensure that parents use their allowances to pay for Ofsted or equivalent, registered childcare providers?  It is believed that £265 million of the £1,606 million working tax credit system was estimated to have been claimed erroneously in 2010/11**, how will the government ensure this does not happen with a new system?

If the government listens to the numerous calls to extend the Childcare Voucher scheme, this could solve the problem for many working parents:
  • Increase the cap on Childcare Vouchers.  Working parents are currently allowed to exchange up to £55 per week from their salary for Childcare Vouchers***.  Busy Bees Benefits are running a campaign to increase the allowance to £75 as the current cap has not changed since 2006, although childcare costs have continued to rise during this time.  At the heart of their campaign is an online petition which can be signed here - http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31669.  Increasing the cap would increase savings, making parents’ childcare costs more affordable.
  • Extending Childcare Vouchers to self-employed parents would allow more parents to receive help with their childcare costs.  This would allow self-employed parents to receive the same amount of support as parents in employment.  The scheme could be easily adapted with minimal administration changes.
  • Increase access to the scheme.  Employees should have a ‘right to request’ which would mean employers have to offer the scheme.
  • Allowing working parents on National Minimum Wage to also use Childcare Vouchers.
The proposed changes have suggested that only parents with children under five will benefit.  The provision of childcare vouchers doesn’t only help parents with young children; it also allows parents to save money on childcare costs for older children.  

What will be announced is still unknown; however there is a real need for the government to help families now and allow parents to return to work without childcare costs being a heavy financial burden.


Ends
Notes
  • *Quote from a childcare provider responding to the 2012 Busy Bees Benefits Customer Survey.
  • **http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/coalition-needs-improve-quality-childcare-not-just-cost
  • ***Basic rate tax payers.  Higher rate can have up to £28 per week and Additional rate can have up to £22 per week, depending on individual circumstances.
  • 577 parents responded to the 2012 Busy Bees Benefits Customer Survey. When asked “Do you believe the provision of childcare vouchers influenced your decision to return to work or remain with your current employer after you had a family?” 32.1% answered “yes”.
  • Busy Bees Benefits is part of the Busy Bees Group, the UK’s largest childcare provider, operating 214 nurseries. Its Childcare Voucher scheme helps working parents to save money on childcare and their employers can offer this valuable benefit at no cost to the organisation. Parents can also receive an additional discount if they use a Busy Bees Voucher at a Busy Bees Nursery. The company also offers a range of employee benefits.
·     
For further information about the Busy Bees Childcare Voucher scheme, visit www.busybeesbenefits.com

Friday, 11 January 2013

Solving Childcare Affordability Doesn't Have to Mean Reinventing The Wheel


A press release from the CVPA:



“Solving childcare affordability doesn’t have to mean reinventing the wheel.  With a few simple changes to the childcare voucher scheme, Government could give working parents the support they need.

We have been working with Government to increase childcare support.  Childcare vouchers can be expanded to include self-employed parents, those on the national minimum wage and through introducing a right to request.”

·         Childcare vouchers help the Government provide targeted support for working parents and especially enable a significant number of them to return to work.  Industry data, independently conducted by the Social Market Foundation, demonstrates that over 80% of childcare voucher users are basic rate taxpayers.  The amount which can be sacrificed is flexible, so Government has the power to increase the difference between the tax bands so as to make the scheme as progressive as possible.

·         Over half a million working parents use childcare vouchers for registered nurseries, childminders, before- and after-school clubs and holiday camps.  Findings from an industry survey demonstrate that 17% of childcare voucher users would be forced to leave work and 38% would have to reduce their working hours should the tax exemptions on vouchers be removed.

·         Government could easily, efficiently and effectively increase this support to ensure that all working parents are provided with help in returning to, or remaining in work. 

·         Two simple changes could be made to the childcare voucher scheme to increase the support it provides:

  1. In order to increase access to the scheme, the system could be strengthened by introducing a ‘right to request’ for employees. The introduction of such a ‘right to request’ could mirror the provisions previously put in place around flexible working and would reinforce the support working parents receive for their childcare costs.
  2. Those who are self-employed are currently unable to benefit from childcare vouchers.  The scheme could be easily adapted to ensure self-employed parents are able to receive the same childcare support as parents in other types of employment.

·         The voucher scheme is simple, efficient and does not place any administrative burden on the Government, so implementing these changes would not add any overhead costs for the taxpayer. In contrast, any new tax break scheme is likely to bring more people into the self-assessment regime.

·         Once these are in place, Government could amend the weekly tax exemption salary sacrifice limit in line with its intended support for working parents.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Childcare Costs - How You Can Save Money



Childcare costs are a big issue at present.  With the government expected to release detailed proposals as a result of the Childcare Commission next week, Child Benefit being cut for higher rate tax payers and childcare costs being at the forefront in the recent Coalition mid-term review, it is no wonder parents are confused about how they can get help to reduce their childcare costs. 

It is clear that there is a need for financial reform to make childcare more affordable for parents.  To achieve this the government is looking at introducing tax breaks, raising child to carer ratios and increasing funded places for 2 year olds.  Government also hopes this will make childcare more accessible and help parents back into work.

Childcare Vouchers, currently used by over 500,000 working parents, are one of the most popular methods used to help them save money on their childcare costs.  The Childcare Voucher scheme has proved to be a successful method of reducing childcare costs, giving more parents the opportunity to work.  In a recent survey** by Busy Bees Benefits, parents were asked “Do you believe the provision of Childcare Vouchers influenced your decision to return to work or remain with your current employer after you had a family?” 32.1% of respondents answered “yes”.  One respondent said “Every bit helps – we save about £150 in tax between the two of us.  I had to go back to work and there was no other benefit – so having this is essential”.  Another parent who returned to work after maternity leave said “I had no alternative but I found out about [Childcare Vouchers] when I was pregnant and it eased my worries about whether I could afford to return part time.  Thankfully I could!”

However, many parents are confused about Childcare Vouchers; not understanding how they work, the availability of the scheme and the benefits they provide.  “I didn’t use them for the first year because I didn’t fully understand the benefits or think I was eligible for them”.  There is a clear information gap.  Parents should speak to their employer and childcare provider to ensure they know what help is available and the benefits Childcare Vouchers can provide.

Here is a simple 5 point guide:
  1. Childcare Vouchers are available to working parents via their employer who offer the scheme as an employee benefit to their staff.
  2.  Parents simply register to the scheme, telling their employer how much they would like to deduct from their wages each pay period in return for Childcare Vouchers.  Parents can currently exchange up to £243* per month.
  3. The amount exchanged for vouchers is deducted from their wages before tax and National Insurance is taken.  This in turn reduces their salary which means they pay less tax and National Insurance.
  4. Parents then pay their childcare provider with the vouchers.  They can be used to pay any registered childcare provider for children up to the age of 16.
  5. Through taking Childcare Vouchers, parents can save up to £933* per year on the cost of their childcare.
Busy Bees Benefits, a leading Childcare Voucher provider and part of the Busy Bees Nursery Group, understands the importance of providing quality childcare at affordable prices.  Busy Bees Benefits is fighting to increase savings provided by Childcare Vouchers through their national campaign called ‘Mind the Gap – Raise the Cap’.  The campaign aims to persuade the government to increase the current amount parents can take in Childcare Vouchers from £55 to £75 per week (£243 to £331 per month).  If the campaign is successful parents will see the savings they can make rise up to over £1200 per year.  To maximise savings, both parents can choose to use Childcare Vouchers increasing savings to more than £2400 per year.

To help support the ‘Mind the Gap – Raise the Gap’ campaign, Busy Bees Benefits has an online petition set up which can be signed here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31669.  Alternatively, Busy Bees Benefits has set up a tool to allow supporters to send an email to their local MP to make them aware of the campaign.

Whatever your childcare costs, saving money in this economic climate is important for families.  For more information about how you can start saving using Childcare Vouchers visit www.busybeesbenefits.com or the HMRC website.



Notes
·         *Basic Rate tax payers, subject to individual circumstances.
·         **577 parents responded to the December 2012 Customer Survey.


Monday, 7 January 2013

Higher Rate Taxpayers: How You Could Turn Child Benefit Losses Into a Win-Win


Entitlement to Child Benefit has now changed for many higher rate tax payers, but there are ways to reduce the impact through salary sacrifice benefits such as childcare vouchers.

Some form of universal Child Benefit has existed since 1946, with Child Benefit as we now know it introduced in 1977. However, in a political move to get higher rate taxpayers to pay more and help to address the UK’s deficit, entitlement to Child Benefit has changed from today.

After outcry from parents about the initial plans which would have affected all those in the higher rate tax band, only households where one parent earns over £50,000 will now be affected.  If one parent earns over £60,000, you’ll lose the benefit completely. The change is expected to affect over a million families and the average loss in household income from the benefit will be around £1,300.

Things are set to become more complicated for those earning between £50,000 and £60,000. If this applies to you, you will receive the full benefit, but will then have to complete a self-assessment form at the end of each tax year and will be charged extra income tax to offset the Child Benefit payments received. For example, if you have income of £54,000 and your partner receives Child Benefit for two children of £1,752 for a whole year, the charge will be 40% of the £1,752 Child Benefit = £700. The percentage is determined as follows £54,000 - £50,000 = 4000 /100 = 40%.

For thousands of workers earning a little over the £50,000 threshold, there is a way to reduce the impact on household income from this change. The entitlement to Child Benefit is calculated on the individual’s net income after adjustments such as salary sacrifice benefits have been deducted. So if you are not already taking Childcare Vouchers, operated as an HMRC-approved salary sacrifice scheme, now is the time to do so. (Other salary sacrifice benefits such as cycle to work, car leasing schemes and pensions will also help parents to maintain their child benefit.)

Higher rate taxpayers can currently sacrifice up to £124 per month (£1,488 per year) in exchange for vouchers to pay for a range of registered childcare up to the age of 16. So if your income is a little over £50,000 a year, taking advantage of Childcare Vouchers could take your net income below the threshold where Child Benefit changes would apply. This is a win-win situation - not only will you maintain the amount of Child Benefit you currently receive, you will also receive the tax benefit from taking Childcare Vouchers, which are non-taxable and National Insurance exempt. As a higher rate taxpayer, you can currently save up to £624 per year if you sacrifice the maximum allowance. Both working parents can join a scheme to increase these savings (up to £933 per year for a basic rate taxpayer).

Busy Bees Benefits has been actively campaigning to increase the amount employees can sacrifice in exchange for childcare vouchers since the thresholds have not increased since 2006. If the campaign is successful it would create more savings for all working parents using vouchers and allow more higher rate taxpayers to take advantage of the child benefit loophole by taking childcare vouchers. For higher rate taxpayers, savings would increase by over £200 if the campaign is a success. To support the campaign, readers can sign the e-petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31669.

If your employer offers a Childcare Voucher schemejoin it. If not, ask them to provide one – it’s a win-win situation for the employer too, decreasing their employer National Insurance contributions for every working parent on the scheme and improving staff recruitment, retention and morale.

If you earn just over £50,000 a year, reducing your net income by taking Childcare Vouchers could also mean you avoid having to complete a self-assessment tax return.  HMRC estimates that around half a million people who previously didn't have to complete a self-assessment form will have to do so as part of the changes.

These changes are complicated and have been widely criticised as being unfair and unworkable. It is not based on combined household income, so two parents working and both earning just under £50,000 will keep all of their Child Benefit, whereas those with only one parent working and earning  just over £50,000 will not. Also the new rules include an expectation that couples disclose to each other whether they claim Child Benefit, or earn above £50,000 a year, undermining the long-held principle of individual taxation.

Whatever your view, it makes sense to do what you can maximise your benefits and maintain your household income as far as possible while the changes are in place.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

1 In 3 Parents Say Childcare Vouchers Influenced Their Return To Work


Recruitment and retention are high on the agenda for any employer, and the latest customer survey by Busy Bees Benefits has shown that the provision of a childcare voucher scheme can make a big difference to this issue for businesses.

When asked “Do you believe the provision of childcare vouchers influenced your decision to return to work or remain with your current employer after you had a family?” 32.1% of respondents answered “yes”.

Childcare vouchers are fast becoming a “must have” for working parents and as employees generally change jobs more often than they once did, they are more aware of benefits other than just salary and are willing to pick and choose their next move according to the overall package on offer.

One parent responding to the Busy Bees Benefits survey said “I actually changed jobs to an employer who offered the scheme as it makes such a financial difference that it makes returning to work much more viable”. Another commented “I would be concerned if I changed job and they didn’t have a childcare voucher scheme.”

Many parents, especially mums, having made the decision to go back to work, do so part-time after maternity leave, often due to the cost of full-time childcare. One mum responding to the Busy Bees Benefits survey said “I wanted to go back to work part time and my employer didn’t do the vouchers initially, but I set it up with them and it has allowed me to go full time.”

John Woodward, MD at Busy Bees Benefits said “It is often left to parents to bring the benefits of childcare vouchers to the attention of employers, but organisations who have a scheme in place and tell their staff about it are much more likely to retain working parents, maintaining the knowledge base the company has developed and saving money on recruitment. The childcare voucher scheme also saves money for employers, who do not have to pay Employer National Insurance contributions on the portion of salary sacrificed by the employee. Companies can save just over £400 per year for every employee who uses the scheme to pay towards their childcare.”

The provision of childcare vouchers doesn’t only help parents to return to work when their children are very young and they need a nursery, nanny, au pair or childminder. The vouchers can be used to pay for care for older children, allowing working parents to maintain and build on their skills. As one parent commented: “I had to return (to work) anyway, but it has definitely helped and I now feel able to use after-school clubs, enabling me to train in my profession.”

The survey also revealed that many parents are frustrated by the amount they are able to sacrifice from their salary in return for childcare vouchers: “They helped me to be able to afford to come back to work. More help from the government would have been nice, though.” Another said “I do find the Government allowance too small against ever-rising childcare costs”.

Busy Bees Benefits is currently lobbying the government to provide more help. Its campaign “Mind the Gap – Raise the Cap” was launched last year with the intention of persuading the government to raise the maximum allowance from £55 to £75 per week. The £55 cap was set by the government in 2006 and has not altered since. As childcare costs have continued to rise, inflation and other financial pressures have made managing family budgets more of a challenge. Raising the cap will make a real difference to working parents, saving over £300 more per year, or a total of over £1200 per parent, per year for basic rate taxpayers. It will also help employers attract more parents into work, retain talented staff and help businesses make further savings.

Busy Bees Benefits has an online petition at the heart of the campaign which can be found at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31669
Benefits such as childcare vouchers have become essential in making organisations an employer of choice. Employers need to consider them an essential part of their offering to staff. A current Busy Bees Benefits customer summed it up perfectly: “The provision of childcare vouchers is definitely something I would look for in future employee benefits.”