About 150 parents have reclaimed more than £45,000 after encountering technical difficulties when applying for the Tax-Free Childcare scheme. If you've been left out of pocket, here's how to claim.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which runs the scheme, has produced a new form which parents can use to claim if they've been let down by the new system.
But while it's being billed as a 'compensation' scheme, it's more about claiming for missed top-up payments or financial losses such as nursery late payment fees, rather than seeking extra payments for inconvenience you've suffered.
Under the Tax-Free Childcare scheme, parents and carers in the UK can open a special account to save for childcare costs. For every 80p you deposit, the state adds 20p, up to a value of £2,000 per child per year – see full details in our Childcare Costs Help guide.
The Childcare Service site launched in April, allowing parents to register for Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours of free childcare. But MoneySavingExpert.com first highlighted in May that parents had been struggling to log on or access their accounts and ever since it's been dogged by widespread glitches.
Thousands have struggled to create or use their accounts, with many missing out on the Government top-up or even being fined for late childcare payments as a result.
Can I claim?
HMRC says parents or guardians left out of pocket due to problems with the Tax-Free Childcare scheme can claim. This could include cases where:
- You've been unable to complete your application for Tax-Free Childcare.
- You've been unable to access your childcare account.
- You've waited more than 20 days for a decision about whether you're eligible – and haven't had any explanation for the wait.
If you're eligible and claim via its 'compensation' scheme, HMRC says you'll be given your Government top-up as a one-off payment. You can also apply for other costs though – such as nursery late payment fees, bank charges and phone costs – if you can prove these were a result of the site problems.
When asked if parents could claim compensation for issues such as time spent dealing with the problem, an HMRC spokesperson said that each case will be looked at individually but that it's more of a redress scheme. The spokesperson confirmed that HMRC has already started making payments to parents.
How do I claim?
You need to fill out the Childcare Service claim form. You'll be asked for your:
- Home address
- National insurance number
- A brief description of the issues you've had
- Bank name, account number and sort code
- Copies of receipts for payments to your childcare provider
You need to print out and post the form to Childcare Service, HM Revenue & Customs, BX9 1GR. Make sure you include copies of any evidence relating to your claim.
If you're successful the cash will be paid straight into your bank account via BACS transfer. HMRC says processing your claim and making a payment if you're due one is likely to take "a few days" in total.
What if I've had trouble applying for the 30 hours of free childcare?
As well as signing up to the Tax-Free Childcare scheme, you can also use the Childcare Service website to register for 30 hours of free childcare.
HMRC says anyone having technical problems using the site to do this should call 0300 123 4097. However, it says it WON'T be refunding costs for anyone who's had difficulty applying for the 30 free hours.
If you've been left out of pocket due to call costs etc you could always try asking HMRC to reimburse your costs anyway, but this certainly isn't guaranteed.
'Hours wasted on the phone'
Ever since we reported the technical problems we've been inundated with stories from MoneySavers having problems, ranging from issues using money already put into the scheme to being asked to reconfirm eligibility – and they continue to flood in.
- Andy emailed: "No activation code weeks after applying. Numerous attempts to call, long waits, transfers to other departments then cut off. Hours wasted on the phone."
- Marta said: "The website is confusing, not working most of the time and there is no one there to help. I have put £240 on my account so far – my money never reached my childcare provider and I can't get it back as there's an error every time I try to withdraw it. Is there someone responsible for all that mess?"
- Leon said: "My wife has been trying to register us since May. She has spent hours on the phone on hold... with numerous promises of an urgent call back only for that to never materialise. She has been round and round with them over a technical detail that they have wrong. I might go find a brick wall to bang my head against."
If you've experienced problems with the site – or if you've successfully claimed your costs back – let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HMRC has already paid more than £45,000
HMRC has now revealed it's already paid out £45,687 to about 150 parents who missed out on the Government top-up as part of the Tax-Free Childcare scheme.
It gave the information as part of its response to MP Nicky Morgan, who as chair of the Treasury Committee demanded answers on the Childcare Service website.
HMRC's response also revealed:
- 5% of people using the Childcare Service website have seen a 'technical difficulties' screen – this equates to at least 12,000 people, though HMRC was unable to give exact figures.
- It has received 1,507 complaints. This represents fewer than 1% of users, but over 90% of the complaints were about technical issues.
- Since its launch on 21 April, the site has been down for maintenance for 160 hours and 8 minutes. Roughly 50% of this was between 10pm and 8am.
- As of 16 August, 208,000 parents have successfully applied for a Childcare Service account, 100,000 for 30 hours of free childcare, 21,000 for Tax-Free Childcare and 87,000 for both.
- Of parents who have given feedback, 34% said they were very satisfied with the service, 42% were satisfied, 16% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 5% dissatisfied and 3% very dissatisfied.
- There have been 257,407 calls to the helpline, the average wait-time is 1 minute 17 seconds and the average length of answered calls is 6 minutes and 31 seconds.