Eyecare benefits offer clear advantages

Eyecare perks beyond the legal minimum offer advantages to both employers and staff, says Sally Hamilton

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Employers are required by law to pay for eye tests for staff who use visual display units (VDUs) and, if required, glasses.
  • Providing above this minimum can have advantages for employers. For example, looking after drivers’ optical health may result in lower insurance costs.
  • Some healthcare cash plans can now be used to pay towards laser eye surgery.

The beauty of many employee benefits can be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to eyecare, employers are obliged to meet legal minimums. Since 1992, employers have had to provide, on request, free eye tests to all employees who work on visual display units (VDUs) regularly, as well as pay for a basic pair of glasses, if required.

This typically involves reimbursing employees who have paid for an eye test and glasses or giving them a pre-paid voucher. Some employers also provide a company-paid healthcare cash plan with optical benefits.

However, there are arguments for employers to exceed these minimum requirements and promote eyecare as a perk. For example, some employers looking to improve recruitment and retention offer extras, such as private medical insurance (PMI) covering acute eye conditions, access to discounted laser surgery and money-off deals for designer specs and contact lenses. But Karen Gamble, regional director of broker firm Heath Lambert, says recent belt-tightening means providing much more than the basic is not a priority for many employers. “Most employers that want to offer a little bit more on eyecare raise the limit from about £45 to £65 towards the cost of glasses,” she says.

More organisations are starting to offer free sight test vouchers to staff who fall outside the VDU rules, especially those who drive on business, says Andrew Adams, eyecare voucher specialist at Accor Services.

Driver eye tests

Part of the motivation for offering more than the minimum is the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which places the responsibility for fatal workrelated injuries with employers. Laura Butler, corporate account manager at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, says: “Increasing numbers of employers want to be sure their drivers are having their eyes tested.”

There can also be knock-on benefits, as one of Specsavers’ clients, Hull-based Kingstown Furniture, found when its motor insurance premiums fell after it introduced an eyecare voucher scheme for its drivers.

Vouchers for eye tests

Costs for eye tests can be controlled using vouchers, which can be bought in bulk. VDU schemes can start at about £17, and some providers throw in free VDU glasses, if needed. Employers can make significant savings by switching to a voucher scheme.

Ben Smith, corporate account manager atOptical Express, says employers fearing big bills for spectacles may be relieved to know that just one in 10 staff tested will actually need VDU-only spectacles.

But extending the benefit to the wider workforce can create a P11D headache, says Adams. “Employers will have to see if their local tax office will accept it is a vocational requirement for drivers, for example.”

Healthcare cash plans

Employers that use healthcare cash plans to meet their obligations around eyecare also face a grey area because it is not always easy to check whether the benefit is used for this purpose. Damian Lenihan, head of client and customer management at Bupa, says: “An employer just has to offer staff the benefit, not ensure they use it.”

To tackle this, some providers offer cashless eyecare vouchers alongside their plans, which are posted to staff on request.

Optical Express’ Smith says employers are gradually introducing access to additional eyecare benefits, such as laser eye surgery. “If organisations promote our laser service, employees get a discount of 10%,” he says.

He adds laser eye surgery may also start to feature more as an option in flexible benefits schemes. Some cash plans, such as Bupa’s Health Additions product, can also be used towards laser work. “The £90 a year plan gives a maximum cash benefit of £250. Employees could use this entirely for eyecare, whether for glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery,” explains Bupa’s Lenihan.

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