Public Services > Central Government

HMRC responds to Nicky Morgan’s Childcare Service queries

David Bicknell Published 23 August 2017

Jon Thompson’s reply includes apology for parents experiencing problems; website has been down for 160 hours including for planned updates and maintenance since April when service was launched


HM Revenue & Customs chief executive Jon Thompson has responded to a letter from Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan over her query regarding reports of problems with the HMRC-run Childcare Service website.

Morgan had asked for answers to a series of questions, including details of the number of users who have successfully completed an application for a childcare service account split by which service they use, the number of users who have started an application, but not returned to it for a period of time, and the number of users who have deactivated an account on the website.

Thompson’s reply included an apology for some parents experiencing problems and for them not received the service HMRC aims to deliver.

A posting on GOV.UK also offered parents who have been affected by technical issues a "government top-up" as a one-off payment for Tax-Free Childcare. It said, "We’ll also consider refunding any reasonable costs directly caused by the service not working as it should, mistakes or unreasonable delays. Parents may be eligible for payments if they have been unable to complete their application for Tax-Free Childcare; been unable to access their childcare account; or not received a decision about if they are eligible, without explanation, for more than 20 days."

Thompson said the childcare service enables parents to apply for both Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours of free childcare through a single, digital application, which he said, “avoids the need for parents to provide the same information twice and means that many parents receive an eligibility result in real time.”

His letter to Morgan indicated that from 244,000 parent applications, 208,000 have been found eligible for Tax-Free Childcare, 30 hours free childcare, or both and have their codes and accounts.

The vast majority of the remainder, he said, are undergoing additional eligibility checks by HMRC as part of the normal process, or are ineligible. He added that 2,600 parents – 1% of applications – need a technical issue to be resolved before HMR can confirm eligibility.

“We have emailed all these parents and are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, and those that have requested a code to access 30 hours free childcare have been issued with one. Take up of 30 hours free childcare is on track to meet the Department for Education’s estimate that successful parental applications will have generated 200,000 valid 30 hours eligibility codes by 31 August,” he said.

He continued, “With regard to the problems that some parents have experienced, we are working to improve the way the service works and in the meantime, where necessary, we are issuing 30 hours free childcare codes manually, and are paying parents the government top up for Tax-Free Childcare when they’ve had difficulty accessing the service because of technical issues.

Thompson said that there are 2,023 applications that parents have not completed and that are less than a week old; there are 2,102 such applications that are 1 week old; there are 2,116 that are 2 weeks old; there are 1,794 that are 3 weeks old; and there are 10,257 that are 4 or more weeks old.

He added that HMRC has designed the service so that it will automatically save partially completed applications for parents to return to later. Many parents exit the service, and do not complete their application, at the point it becomes clear to them that they will be ineligible.

Thompson said that 4,227 parents have closed their accounts. Over 2,000 of these have done so because they have decided they would prefer to remain on tax credits (parents cannot claim Tax-Free Childcare and tax credits at the same time).

He added that some parents do encounter ‘technical difficulties’ screens. “This typically happens when the next page cannot immediately be loaded,“ he said. “Our analysis indicates that just under 5% of users were experiencing at least one such screen at some point during their application. However, this does not necessarily mean they cannot continue with their application – many will be able to continue after refreshing the page.”

He went on, “As this is a new digital service, we sometimes need to take the system down for updates and maintenance. At these times, all users see ‘site unavailable’ screens. The website has been down for 160 hours and 8 minutes, including for planned updates and maintenance, since 21 April when the service was launched. Of this downtime, approximately 50% was between 10pm and 8am to limit the impact on parents. Overall system availability has been 94%.”

Thompson indicated that HMRC has received 1,507 complaints, which he said represents less than 1% of all customers. Over 90% of complaints have been concerned with technical issues; 1% are about eligibility; and 1% are about customer service.

Thompson also said there have been 257,407 calls to the helpline, with the figure comprising general eligibility queries, as well as parents experiencing technical difficulties, parents calling about 30 hours codes and parents responding to letters requesting more information.

He said a total of £45,687 has been paid as compensation in lieu of the government top-up parents would have received if they had been able to access their accounts and as redress. He added that the latest RAG status of the programme remains at amber.

Commenting on the correspondence, Morgan said, “Whilst it is welcome that HMRC has made ‘significant improvements’ to the website since it was launched in April, thousands of parents are still unable to apply for the childcare to which they are entitled in the way that the government has envisaged.

“Clearly further improvements are still required. The Committee will no doubt want to question representatives of HMRC on the technical issues with the Childcare Service website when they are called to give evidence.”

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