Buyer’s guide to corporate eyecare

Key facts

What is an eyecare benefit?
Corporate eyecare comes in the form of eye and eyesight tests and contributions towards glasses, either in the form of cash, eyecare vouchers and, in some cases, via employees’ expense accounts.

Where can employers get more information?
Contact the Eyecare Trust on 0845 129 5001

Who are the main providers?
ASE Corporate Eyecare, Boots, Dollond and Aitchison, Edenred, Optical Express, Specsavers, Vision Express

Employers have legal obligations to provide eyecare for staff who use display screen equipment, and workplace optical benefits can take a variety of forms, says Clare Bettelley

Employers are legally bound by the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992 to provide optical care for employees who use equipment with a display screen.

Under the legislation, employers are required to provide an appropriate eye or eyesight test by a registered optician, optometrist or doctor; further eye or eyesight tests at regular intervals; additional tests if an employee experiences visual difficulties attributed to their display screen equipment; and special lenses or appliances required to help prevent eyesight deterioration arising from the use of this equipment.

Portable equipment, such as laptops and handheld devices, are subject to the regulations if used for prolonged periods in a work capacity.

The regulations also require employers to analyse employees’ work stations, the jobs being done and employees’ special needs.

Workplace eyecare schemes typically provide pre-paid vouchers to redeem at selected opticians. Many organisations also offer basic visual display unit (VDU) screening or occupational visual tests by in-house clinicians. An employer-funded health cash plan can also provide optical benefits. Employers that want to provide cover beyond the legal minimum can do so, for example, by offering optical benefits through a flexible or voluntary benefits plan.

Specsavers offers two years’ eyecare cover for staff with no specific eyecare issues for £17 per employee, which covers a sight test and VDU glasses if required. Vision Express offers three eyecare schemes, ranging from a VDU or driver’s scheme at £15 per employee to a free discount package offering a free eye test and retina photo, a two-for-one designer glasses offer, a £30 discount on a pair of glasses, or a £70 discount on contact lenses. Meanwhile, Optical Express offers eye tests at £10, which is deductible from the cost of glasses. Entry-level VDU-specific glasses start at £49.

But a number of employers appear to be unaware of their legal obligations on eyecare. A study of 255 HR professionals by British charity The Eyecare Trust and healthcare provider Simplyhealth, conducted by Opinion Matters in February 2010, found 89% of employers fail to meet their legal obligations, with one in five small employers confessing to a total lack of eyecare provision. One in five (18%) large employers failed to pay for regular sight tests, and 40% said they would refuse to contribute towards the cost of glasses required solely for display screen work.

Dharmesh Patel, chairman of The Eyecare Trust, says: “The perception is that eyecare is not a hugely valued thing, because the cost of an eye exam is not particularly great.”

But Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances at Specsavers, believes some employers are unaware of their obligations because there is little guidance on how to meet them. Also, the regulations only require employers to pay for eye tests if requested, and the requirement for VDU-specific glasses is typically low.

Lythgow adds: “Legislation does not require employers to identify VDU users, and in this [economic climate], employers tend to shy away from promoting eyecare to save a bit of money.”

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He adds employers have a moral duty of care to staff, not least because eye tests can detect illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, using retinal photography.

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