Guest Opinion: The provision of childcare vouchers

The decision to provide employee childcare vouchers would appear to be a no-brainer especially with the government allowing scheme members National Insurance contribution reductions against the cost of childcare provision. Potentially, offering vouchers is an all-round win, because as an employer we can tap into that pool of parents who previously could not afford to come back to work, existing employees are better off, and the company also makes NI savings. For us the choice of provider was a tricky one because if we chose wrongly it could potentially mean that the whole scheme might fail. We also needed a provider that could cope with massive take-up on a UK-wide scale, so their costs needed to be proportionate, and they had to be able to provide an e-voucher system. We are delighted to say, we found one to match the profile. Prior to implementation we carried out a risk analysis exercise which exposed several areas of concern. Firstly, the Inland Revenue (IR) allows funds to be paid directly to family members for childcare provision, so how would we know that employees were not merely paying a family member when they did not have children? Secondly, in the event that funds were misappropriated following release to the provider, our employees may be left unable to access their money. In order to mitigate these risks we chose to restrict the policy to Ofsted-registered carers only and to pay a premium on the provider’s standard charges in order to place a bank guarantee against the funds. Following IR approval of our pilot phase, we launched the full scheme across the business. We opened all internal communication channels: we held benefits roadshows at head office locations, our provider Accor held on-site briefing sessions, we placed quarterly full-page advertisements in our Caudwell Communicator magazine, and we dropped leaflets at employee workstations. Now all we had to do was sit back and wait for employee take-up …and wait…and wait! However no one called, no one attended the briefing sessions. Why, we wondered. Where had we gone wrong? A review of current members has shown that the launch was only successful in certain pockets of the business where peer groups were well established. We can only put this down to the trust factor. In a fast moving environment, where staff rarely get the chance to build long-term relationships, it can be a big step for an employee to agree to a salary reduction. Often they cannot see from the experience of others around them that it does [actually] give them more money at the end of the month as well as pay for their childcare. Armed with these experiences our next step is to put a full-page article in our internal magazine, due out in the first quarter 2005, detailing successful members’ stories, so the campaign will be run in tandem with the launch of the Inland Revenue’s new regulations.