The government has said it is on track to offer 200,000 households 30 hours of free childcare per week this autumn – despite technical difficulties delaying 2,600 applications.
In a letter to the Treasury select committee, HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson revealed that 5% of people who used the new website designed to bring together the 30 hours pledge and tax-free childcare options had experienced technical difficulties.
He said he was “very sorry” that some users had issues with the site.
“2,600 parents – 1% of applications – need a technical issue to be resolved before we can confirm eligibility,” he added.
“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.
“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.”
Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, raised questions about the performance of the website earlier this month, and she today said further questions had to be answered.
“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,” she commented.
“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.”
The letter revealed that 208,000 accounts had been registered on the site, of which 100,000 were only applying for the 30 hours of free childcare, 21,000 only for the tax break, and 87,000 were for both.
The government’s flagship pledge to double the amount of free childcare entitlement to working parents will be rolled out nationwide this autumn, and Thompson confirmed HMRC was on track to deliver the target of 200,000 eligible codes by the end of August.