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HMRC resolves technical issue with tax-free childcare portal

The department’s tax-free childcare website has again suffered technical issues, affecting 22,000 payments, but the problems were resolved last week, according to HMRC

A technical issue with HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) tax-free childcare website last week left childcare providers unpaid while the department worked to solve the problem.

The website – which aims to enable parents to apply for two newly introduced government benefits, tax-free childcare and 30 hours’ free childcare – suffered a technical issue, which resulted in delays to payments made between 30 October and 1 November.

An HMRC spokesperson said the issue has “now been resolved, and the affected payments were received by childcare providers on 7 November”.

“The payments affected were standing orders made on 30th and 31st October and 1st November. Around 22,000 payments were affected,” the spokesperson said.

The new benefits are aimed at making it easier for parents to return to work by helping them with childcare costs. Parents will pay money into an online account on the childcare service portal, which is then topped up by government and paid out to the providers.

In this instance, the money left the parents’ accounts, but was never paid to the childcare providers, leaving them unpaid for a week until the issue was resolved.

Last week, angry childminders and parents took to Twitter to vent their frustration after payments weren’t made due to issues with the online portal.

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One childcare provider said she was owed more than £1,000 from three sets of parents due to the issue, and had been left completely in the dark by HMRC, while another said taking money from the parents and not paying it could be “classed as theft”.

This isn’t the first time the childcare website has suffered with problems. Earlier this year, it was slammed by the Treasury Committee for performing poorly and causing stress to parents. 

In the spring and summer of 2017, the website continually crashed. The Treasury Committee was told by HMRC permanent secretary Jon Thompson that between April and August 2017, for a period of 107 days, “the website was down for 160 hours”. This included 15 breakdowns in May, including five consecutive days.  

As well as parents struggling to use the website, nurseries have also struggled to register. Due to the issues, uptake of the website has been much lower than expected. 

Responding to a Parliamentary question from early years shadow minister Tracy Brabin, the government revealed only 391,000 of the 1.5 million eligible parents have opened a tax-free childcare account. Of those 391,000, only 109,000 have actually used it to make payments.

Back in 2015, the Childcare Service failed its initial assessment by the Government Digital Service (GDS).

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