Online school payments system ParentPay expects to complete a second major overhaul of its website next month after a previous revamp proved hugely unpopular with parents and led to children going hungry at school.
The online payment option – used by 6,000 UK schools and 1.7 million parents – lets you pay for your child's school-related costs, including lunches, trips and uniforms.
In June, MoneySavingExpert.com reported on how the replacement of the 'basket' system with a prepay function called 'My Account' baffled parents and led to hundreds of complaints, with some children left without money to buy a school lunch.
The revamped site was also dogged by technical glitches that meant parents couldn't log in or top up their children's accounts, forcing the company to issue repeated apologies on social media.
We've since learned that about 85,000 parents were hit by problems following the roll-out of the new site on 8 June, with ParentPay's customer support staff overwhelmed by demands for help.
While it's not removing My Account (now renamed Parent Account), ParentPay says it's reinstating the basket function and simplifying other areas of the site in a bid to make it more intuitive for parents.
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What are the latest changes?
ParentPay has confirmed it's making the following changes in response to recent feedback from parents:
- The basket will be re-introduced to make it simpler for parents to check out multiple items without having to top up their Parent Account (formerly My Account) first.
- You'll also be able to book and pay for school meals directly from the ParentPay home page, without having to top up Parent Account.
- Those who still opt to use Parent Accounts will get on-screen reminders to top up or pay for items.
- A number of pages are being redesigned to make them quicker and clearer to use.
- Messages on the site will be changed to make the benefits of using Parent Account clearer.
This new version of the site is currently being introduced in stages, with everything likely to be completed in September.
If you're a ParentPay user, let us know how you get on with the new version of the site.
How many people were impacted by the problems?
In an email to parents sent on 12 July, ParentPay said it had "planned, based on trials, to provide support to 1-2% of our 1.7 million parents" following the June update – which amounts to between 17,000 and 34,000 people.
However, it admitted that it was extremely unprepared for the scale of confusion and "at times struggled to cope with the much higher than anticipated support load". In total, around 5% of users – 85,000 people – were affected.
The email added: "We are very sorry if these problems have caused you any difficulties or inconvenience".
What does ParentPay say?
"The ParentPay release of 8 June was designed to help families on lower incomes, give more flexibility in how parents pay, and support schools in becoming completely cashless.
"However, despite our best intentions, we fully accept the recent release has not been a complete success and has proved challenging for a number of users.
"Some parents have expressed concerns that they are finding aspects confusing or less intuitive, or that particular tasks are taking more time. We identified that a number of users have struggled in some way.
"We have apologised to parents for these problems. This was never our intention and we are committed to putting this right."