A new website set up to allow parents to apply for two Government schemes to help with childcare costs has been hit by technical problems this week, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal.
Some parents have reported making dozens of unsuccessful attempts to log in since last Sunday, while others criticised it as "slow" and a "nightmare".
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which runs the Childcare Service site, says there have been some "intermittent issues" and maintenance periods this week, though it insists that most of the technical glitches have now been fixed and that the service has been accessible "for the vast majority of the time since it launched".
Under the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme, parents and carers in England 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 scheme opened in April to parents of children under four years old – it will be extended to those with older kids later this year – and you can apply to open an account via the Childcare Service site. A separate scheme providing 30 free hours of childcare a week is also available by registering through the site.
'The site has been down for days'
We've seen complaints from a number of users this week about the site, with some reporting that after starting their online application and providing their Government Gateway ID, they were faced with a page saying: "We're experiencing technical difficulties. We don't know when the service will be available again. Please try again later."
Kris Drummond, from Gateshead, tweeted MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis, asking: "Have you had many [people] mention that the Tax-Free Childcare website has been down for days and no one can apply? No phone help either."
Kris told MoneySavingExpert he had first tried to access the site on Monday (8 May), and a message on the site informed him it would be up and running on Tuesday evening. However, this message then changed to say that HMRC did not know when the service would become available again.
He said: "This whole Tax-Free Childcare roll-out has been shambolic to say the least. The scheme is live, our nursery is a participant – but I cannot apply."
Have you tried using the government's Childcare Service website to apply for help with childcare? Tell us about your experiences by filling in our survey.Another user, Mark Beastall, who is from Chesterfield and was registering for childcare for his daughter, told MSE that he first tried to apply online for the 30 free hours scheme, but a litany of technical problems prevented him.
Mark said he had made up to 25 attempts to log in every day since Sunday before finally being able to file his online application on Thursday morning.
He said: "I went to make a complaint as suggested. That then crashed. I went to report the page. That then crashed. I went to online help. That then crashed.
"All of it is poorly explained. I feel that if [HMRC] was to take money from us there would be no issues – I have never had a problem when it comes to income tax."
Another user, Ed Lewis, tweeted: "What's the point in the childcare service if it won't work? Slow, crashes, waste of time."
What does HMRC say?
A spokesperson for HMRC acknowledged there had been some technical glitches, including intermittent issues on Wednesday, but said these have now largely been fixed.
They added: "There have been a handful of maintenance periods, but otherwise the service has been accessible for the vast majority of the time since it launched.
"The childcare service is a new digital service. New or redesigned digital services are regularly launched on Gov.uk and are continually tested and improved. We urgently investigate any issues encountered by parents or providers as soon as these are brought to our attention."
How else can you apply for the childcare schemes?
HMRC told us that as the new childcare scheme has been launched as a digital service, you do have to apply online to open a Tax-Free Childcare account or access the 30 free hours of childcare scheme.
If you experience problems using the site you can contact the service helpline on 0300 123 4097.