Glitches with key free childcare website probed
Concerns about technical problems with the website parents in England have to use to apply for help with childcare have been raised with the government.
Many parents have struggled to register on Childcare Choices, which offers access to two new childcare schemes.
Nicky Morgan, who now chairs the Treasury Committee, has demanded answers from the boss of Revenue & Customs, which runs the website.
HMRC apologised for the inconvenience, saying it had improved the website.
But nursery providers fear it could further jeopardise the success of the schemes.
Parents first reported glitches while using the website in mid-May - just weeks after it was made live.
The website is the key way in which parents access help with two new government-funded childcare schemes:
- the tax-free childcare scheme
- the offer of 30 hours' free childcare for all three- and four-year-olds
One mother, writing in the Financial Times, said things kept going wrong no matter what time of day or night she logged on.
Another tweeted: "I am having a nightmare with the 30 hours' free childcare application."
Mrs Morgan wrote to permanent secretary Jon Thompson asking numerous questions about the issue.
"It's concerning that some parents have struggled to apply for childcare funding, due to technical issues with the government's childcare service website," she said.
"To make matters worse, it appears that the childcare service helpline, for parents suffering problems with the website, is also experiencing technical difficulties."
Mrs Morgan asked for information about:
- the length of time the website had been out of service
- the number of people unable to access their childcare service accounts
- the number and nature of complaints
- details of problems with the helpline attached to the website
An HMRC spokesman said: "We know that some parents and childcare providers have experienced difficulties accessing the service, and we are sorry about the inconvenience.
"We've now made significant improvements based on customer feedback, and on average more than 2,000 parents are applying successfully every single day."
"We continue to make updates to improve the customer experience and ensure everyone can easily access their account.
"Parents and providers experiencing difficulties or needing technical support can phone the childcare service helpline on 0300 123 4097."
But the Pre-School Learning Alliance said it was not acceptable that so many parents were still struggling to actually use the system.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said: "The government has claimed that working families could benefit from thousands of pounds of savings as a result of the tax-free childcare and the 30-hour offers, but of course, for that to happen, the IT system underpinning both schemes has to actually work.
"Indeed, the recent 30-hour pilot evaluation report explicitly stated that the effective implementation of the childcare service system was vital for the policy to have any chance of succeeding."
National Day Nurseries Association chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: "With the rollout of the government's 30 hour funded childcare places from 1 September, some parents are getting worried that they won't even be able to access their places in time because they are being let down by the IT system.
"HMRC must ensure they resolve problems with the website as a matter of urgency and reassure parents and providers."