Voluntary Benefits supplement 2004: Update

Caudwell raises charity cash
Mobile phone company Caudwell Group has raised over £1,000 for charity by launching a voluntary benefits scheme to 6,500 staff.

The company, which owns retailer Phones 4 U, raised the amount in the six months since it had joined forces with worksite marketing provider Abbey at Work.

Tom Cropper, business development manager at the Caudwell Group, said: “We offer a Paysaver account through the scheme and if someone opens one up, there’s a donation made by Abbey. So, it’s in our interest to get as many accounts opened as possible.”

Abbey at Work donates £5 for every account opened and all the money raised goes to The Caudwell Charitable Trust, which was set up to grant wishes for sick children.

When the firm launched its voluntary benefits scheme to staff in March, the only benefit on offer was a savings account, but the scheme has now been expanded to cover mortgages and lending.

Cropper said: “It’s going extremely well. We’ve had a very good response. I think that more and more people are looking at giving staff something more than just remuneration.”

While some employers have expressed concern that worksite marketing providers might aggressively peddle products to employees, Cropper disagrees. “We only implement things that are of benefit to staff,” he said, adding that workers can save time by applying for financial services at work.

He said that inventive marketing was critical to success. “All the key communication channels were open – intranet, email, magazines, roadshows, leaflets. It’s almost like you are going to launch a product to the public.”

Worksite research
Employee indifference is the main reason that employers do not offer a voluntary benefits scheme.

A quarter of respondents to the Worksite marketing in UK financial services 2004 report by market analysts Datamonitor said that a perceived lack of interest from staff was behind their decision not to offer a voluntary scheme.

A further 15% reported that a lack of resources prevented them from doing so, making it the second most common reason.

Nevertheless, a quarter of employers do have a voluntary scheme in place.

The success of these schemes rests heavily on the communication methods. Schemes that rely on old media have the lowest take-up rates. Where paper is the only form of communication, typically only up to 10% of employees will take advantage. Packages with face-to-face consultations, however, can get take-up rates of up to 60%.

And the figures show that the UK worksite marketing business is booming. Last year, the market was worth around £237 million.

For a copy of Worksite marketing in UK financial services 2004, contact David Parry on 020 7675 7028.

Voluntary benefits

Voluntary benefits are products or services that are bought by employees out of their own taxed income, but which are made available through an employer. These goods are typically offered at a discounted price. This enables employers to offer a wide range of perks at a low cost.

Voluntary benefits packages typically include insurances, travel and leisure services, lifestyle goods such as discounted CDs or DVDs and financial services.

Many organisations have also traditionally negotiated ad hoc discounts with local shops and facilities to include in a voluntary benefits scheme.

Salary sacrifice
Salary sacrifice occurs when an employee gives up the right to receive part of the salary due under their contract of employment. The sacrifice is made in return for the employer’s agreement to provide a benefit, such as a PC or childcare vouchers.

Although these benefits require changes to employment contracts to be made, they are often more likely to be offered on a voluntary basis rather than through flexible benefits. Flexible benefits are when an employee is given a set amount by their employer to spend on a range of benefits.

Currently, many employers use the term flexible benefits, when what they are actually offering is a set of tax-efficient benefits on a voluntary basis.

Discount chain links retention
has launched a voluntary benefits scheme to help retain lower-paid staff.

Like many employers in the retail sector, Poundstretcher has a high staff turnover. But Carol Salt, HR manager, hopes the new scheme will change this. She said: “We hope it will aid retention and make it easier to recruit. Plus it’s a morale [booster] as well.”

The high street chain, which is currently being rebranded as Instore, launched the scheme in October and is in the process of rolling it out to over 300 stores across the UK.

The company has a high proportion of shop-based staff who have no PC access, which had an impact on communication choices. “Employees had individual consultations with the Personal Group and were given a booklet,” said Salt.

Popular benefits include discounted DVDs, roadside assistance, holidays and health club membership. Childcare vouchers were also well received, especially as the workforce is made up of a high percentage of female part-time staff.

Salt added that consulting staff when designing the scheme has resulted in positive feedback. “We carried out extensive research beforehand and looked at all the different companies. We held focus groups with all employees. They got to see a table with all the different companies and benefits on offer and we let them choose.”

The scheme was provided by the Personal Group, which took on all the implementation costs. “They make their money out of offering insurance. The only thing we pay for is the benefits booklet which they tell us they don’t make any profit out of,” said Salt.

Product news
Voluntary benefits provider Brinc has launched an online scheme for local authority employees. The site, which is called Local Authority Discounts, offers staff a wide range of discounted products and services from over 130 providers.

These include travel discounts, discounted entry to theme parks and tourist attractions, gym membership and financial services products from companies such as Thomas Cook, Halifax, PC World and David Lloyd Leisure.

Information about the available discounts is also contained in the booklet, which will be provided free of charge to authorities piloting the scheme for the first year. Brinc also runs the NHS Discounts scheme for over 150,000 NHS staff.

Top voluntary benefits most commonly offered by employers
Gym membership 38%
Healthcare cash plan 32%
Additional voluntary contributions to pension 30%
Travel insurance 29%
Dental insurance 27%

News in brief
• Hammonds Solicitors says that discounts on cars are the most popular benefit in its voluntary benefits scheme. Alison Rowlands, rewards and benefits adviser, said: “The cost can be around £1,000 to £2,000 less than buying from a garage.” Since the law firm launched the Bringme package a year ago, the top five benefits have been cars, CDs, holidays, DVDs and gadgets.

• Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust says that its new voluntary benefits scheme is “going brilliantly”. The scheme, provided by Brinc and HBOS, was launched last year. Favourite benefits include financial advice and airport car parking. Jo Bayliss, work-life balance co-ordinator, said: “Anything we can do that will benefit staff is great because they work so damn hard all the time.”

• British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) employees will be able to get big discounts on Christmas booze this year. Around 10,500 staff based across the UK will receive one free case of wine for every case they buy through voluntary benefits providers Perkz. Fiona Entwhistle, reward manager at BNFL, said that while she didn’t have a big budget to spend on benefits for staff, because of the large number of employees at the firm she could secure big discounts. “I don’t physically go out and search for these [benefit providers]. They tend to come to us and if they fit our culture I’ll take [them] forward,” she added. Other deals include 10% off at retailers Laura Ashley and Early Learning Centre.