Almost 1,000 official complaints have been made about the Government's new Childcare Service website in just three months, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal.
Figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), obtained by MoneySavingExpert under a Freedom of Information request, show that there were 947 complaints about the website between its launch on 21 April this year and 18 July.
We first revealed the Childcare Service site was experiencing major technical problems in May. Parents can use it to access two schemes for help with childcare costs – 30 hours' free childcare and Tax-Free Childcare.
But despite HMRC, which runs the website, insisting it's made "significant improvements", we continue to be flooded with complaints from parents struggling to use it.
While HMRC says more than 180,000 parents have successfully applied for a Childcare Service account, there have been approximately 169,000 calls from parents and 49,000 calls from childcare providers to the dedicated Childcare Service helpline, since the service was first trialled in November last year.
How the Childcare Service website works
Parents and carers have to register with the Childcare Service site to access two Government schemes:
- Free childcare – Parents in England can register for 30 free hours of childcare.
- Tax-Free Childcare savings scheme – Parents in the UK can open a special account to save for childcare costs. For every 80p you deposit, the state adds 20p, up to £2,000 per child per year – see full details in our Childcare Costs Help guide.
Tax-Free Childcare opened in April to parents of children under four years old, and will be extended to those with older kids later this year.
'Parents aren't able to access the free hours they're entitled to because of this shambles'
We still hear from parents who have had difficulties with the Childcare Service website:
Johnnie Shannon says he's had no top-ups to his Tax-Free Childcare account since May, adding: "This doesn't seem to be getting any better. I have spent 90 minutes on the phone to them this week with no resolution. I was advised to write to them."
Natalie de Cruz said: "The Tax-Free Childcare service is still absolutely dogged by issues and the helpline is completely unable to serve the public or help. I've been unable for three months to set up my son's account because of this and nothing is being done about it. Parents aren't going to be able to access the free hours they are entitled to in September because of this shambles."
Jo Butlin said: "For seven weeks I have been trying to register for the 30 hours' free childcare. I meet all criteria. I have a Government Gateway account already, which works perfectly for my self-assessment. I have phoned the helpline more than 20 times, with the same error code I receive each time I try to register.
"I have been told there are many technical problems, that an IT case has been registered for me and finally that an official complaint has been registered in my name. I have received NOTHING in response to any of this.
"I feel utterly helpless and am soon going to be without the funding, when my daughter goes to nursery in September, because the Government can't set up their IT systems properly."
Other parents have reported problems caused by HMRC not making it clear that Tax-Free Childcare top-ups are limited to £500 every three months, as we reported in June.
HMRC: 'We continue to make updates to improve customer experience'
An HMRC spokesperson said: "More than 180,000 parents have successfully applied for a childcare account.
"We know that some parents and childcare providers have experienced difficulties accessing the service and we are very sorry that they have encountered problems. We've now made significant improvements based on customer feedback and on average more than 2,000 parents are applying successfully every day. We continue to make updates to improve the customer experience."
Anyone having problems with the site can call the Childcare Service helpline on 0300 123 4097.