Thursday, 18 February 2016

Childcare Voucher provider failings revealed

In the final year of the Childcare Voucher scheme, the ability to maximise on National Insurance (NI) savings is extremely important for employers. However, despite the limited time left to offer Childcare Vouchers, some scheme providers are still failing to meet the basic service expectations of their clients. A number of large and public sector businesses who had hoped to capitalize on business savings before the launch of Tax-free Childcare are being let down by their provider and having to switch to alternative employee benefit companies.

Busy Bees Benefits reveals the most common issues reported to them when contacted by clients looking for a new provider and provides advice to employers suffering from the same difficulties:

1. Emails going unanswered
It is not uncommon to receive an automatic reply from your provider when you send an email enquiry, but if your email isn’t answered within the time frame they provide, there is something going wrong. It is a very basic requirement that your enquiry is treated with the level of urgency it needs. If your emails aren’t being answered or if your provider takes longer than they promise to get back to you, it might be the right time to consider your options.

2. Taking over two weeks to set up a new account
As an experienced provider of Childcare Vouchers, we can tell you that setting up a new account does not take two weeks. If you’ve requested a new account to be set up, make sure that it is done as soon as possible to ensure your employees have enough time to set up their voucher order.

3. Preventing NI savings by charging a flat fee
The Childcare Voucher scheme should benefit both employer and employee. If your voucher provider is charging a flat fee rather than taking a small cut of your NI savings, the benefit to your business could end up substantially lower. A provider should only make money when your business does, so if you find that you’re being charged a fee when no one in the business has used the scheme, your provider probably doesn’t have the interests of your business at heart.

4. Holding onto voucher monies for up to a week before releasing vouchers
If an employee can’t use their voucher as soon as the money has been sacrificed there is a problem. Whether the waiting period is three days or five days, an employee that has to wait to pay a childcare provider is inconvenienced. Be sure that the scheme you’re providing isn’t doing more harm than good.

5. Not providing a Basic Earnings Assessment 
The provision of the Basic Earnings Assessment greatly reduces the administrative burden on employers. From the information given, the Busy Bees Benefits system calculates employees’ childcare voucher entitlement, minimum wage checks and stores the information in readiness for annual audits. If your provider asks your employee to fill out an excel spreadsheet and send it back, there may be reason for concern.

Other issues confessed by companies operating schemes through poor providers include changing charging structures, high levels of administration and hidden cancellation fees when an employee terminates their order.

If you’re experiencing any of the common issues reported by Busy Bees Benefits, or if your provider has measures in place that are stopping you from receiving you final year’s full savings, it might be time to consider switching providers.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Half-term can cost you less than you think

The cost of raising children from birth to the age of 11, has risen significantly in recent years by 4% to the figure of £87,000*, according to the annual Halifax Cost of Childcare research. Unsurprisingly, childcare is the largest and most costly element of raising a child, accounting for nearly half of the monthly outlay for each child (**£320).

The cost of childcare can vary, depending on the child's age and needs. Many parents will not need childcare after their children start school, other than for school holidays. With holiday clubs, play schemes, activity camps, child minders and nannies, there are a variety of options to choose from, however, these can be costly.

There is a way to help parents save money on childcare costs this half-term: through using Childcare Vouchers. Childcare Vouchers are available through employers to pay for any registered childcare for children up to the age of 16, and can provide savings of up to £933** per year. Simple to use, a chosen amount is deducted from your wages in return for the same amount of Childcare Vouchers before tax and National Insurance. They are then placed into an online account for parents to use to pay their childcare provider(s).

Vouchers can be deducted each month or as and when they are required. They can be saved up in the online account for when they are needed – perfect for those who only need them to pay for sporadic or school holiday childcare. Both parents can join their employer's Childcare Voucher scheme, potentially doubling savings – making childcare more affordable.

The Government were planning to launch their new Tax-free Childcare scheme in autumn 2015, but this has now been delayed till 2017. Currently, Childcare Vouchers are the only option for working parents who want to save on their childcare costs. Furthermore, they will be many parents who will be better off continuing to use Childcare Vouchers as the savings they provide will be more than they would get through Tax-free Childcare. 

Under the new scheme, many parents will be worse off, including middle-low earning parents, families with only one working parent, families using childcare for only a few days a week and those who have children in childcare over the age of 12. Childcare Vouchers are therefore the answer.

Speak to your employer today about Childcare Vouchers – they will save money too.  Alternatively, contact Busy Bees Benefits at or on 0330 333 9100 and they will discuss the scheme with employers on your behalf.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Employer health obligations: mental, not just physical!

Mental health in the workplace is a topic that has been under scrutiny recently. As work environments become more pressurised and employees work longer hours, stress related illnesses are becoming more prominent. According to Busy Bees Benefits, the spotlight has been shone on employers as mental health seems to be slipping through the net when it comes to legal health obligations.

Despite mental health campaigns coming to the forefront on social media, there are still a large amount of employers who shy away from their responsibilities. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Employers should ask themselves what plans they have in place when an issue occurs. If HR managers don’t have the time or skills best equipped to solve a mental health issue, one option is an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – this scheme provides around the clock telephone counselling and an online help system.

That being said, every employee is different and mental health issues are varied. EAPs are great and will suit a large majority of staff, but there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all scheme. An EAP should work as part of a greater strategy. The best way to combat mental health issues is to introduce an open door policy, create a fair working environment and communicate any schemes you have in place to ensure maximum take up.

“We’re all well aware of employers’ responsibilities to maintain their employees’ physical health – and we’ve seen the horror stories when they don’t,” commented Louise Wesley, Operations Director of Busy Bees Benefits. “But often, mental health is side-lined and employees don’t know how to seek help when their work life becomes a bit too stressful.

“Recent research states that just 5% of employees believe their employer is helpful when dealing with mental health issues. Clearly, this is not good enough and work still needs to be done in this area. Whether it’s introducing a new scheme or communicating those that you already have in place, employers should focus on mental health improvements.

“All aspects of health affect an employees’ productivity in the workplace! The last thing an employer needs is extended levels of sickness and absence leave,” she concluded.