Parental Choice blogger Sarah-Jane Butler explains childcare vouchers, and whether the new system that’s been put in place to help working parents will be beneficial to all…

When I was asked to write this article about childcare vouchers two weeks ago I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to say. I was going to explain the current employer provided scheme and the new government funded scheme due to start this Autumn. I was going to tell you who would be better off under the new scheme and who should stay with the old.

Then the Supreme Court threw a spanner in the works.

Some companies currently offering employer sponsored childcare vouchers took legal action to challenge the new government scheme which will essentially see them put out of business and, to be honest, who can blame them. Would any of us be happy to lose our jobs or businesses because of a change in government policy?

Whilst the case was ongoing a suspension to the new scheme was put in place and whilst the legal action was lost and the government scheme will go ahead it is now suspended until Autumn 2017. This may not seem like a huge delay to some but if you have young children and your employer doesn’t offer childcare vouchers (which many do not) you have just lost TWO years of support with those costs. At up to £2000 per child per year that leaves a serious hole in the financial planning of many families.

The new scheme is designed to benefit employees directly, helping working parents with their childcare costs, supporting them back into the workplace if they want to and helping them to increase their hours in work. The scheme will only be open to families where both parents are working (or one in single parent families) and it will be open to those who are self-employed.

However, whilst this scheme will benefit many, there are plenty of others who would be better off under the current employer provided voucher scheme. Those currently using the Employer-Supported Childcare scheme will be able to choose to stay in that scheme or move to Tax-Free Childcare however they should calculate carefully before they make a choice.

There have many who asked why both schemes could not run alongside each other and I add my voice to those. Childcare is not a one size fits all issue but the key point across all types of providers is the huge cost to parents. If the government really is serious about getting those mothers who want to work back into the workplace then they are going to have to do more than closing down a current scheme which works well for many and offering what feels like a pipe dream scheme for sometime in the future to others.

So, for now, if you are already in, or can access, an employer supported childcare vouchers scheme take advantage of it for as long as you can. Don’t forget that both parents can purchase vouchers for the same child thereby doubling the benefit to some families. If you can’t access a scheme then unfortunately you are going to have to look towards Autumn 2017 and hope the goalposts don’t move again.

We all know that the more parents we have working the better the economy will be for all of us so come on central government, create an environment where we can work and have our children cared for safely and economically. Other countries manage it, why can’t we?

SARAH-JANE BUTLER JULY 2015, www.parentalchoice.co.uk

 

 

About The Author

Sarah-Jane Butler
Founder of Parental Choice

Sarah-Jane Butler is the founder of Parental Choice (www.parentalchoice.co.uk), a one stop advice and childcare search service for professionals looking for the right childcare to fit their careers. In 2014, she was recognised by Brummell Magazine as one of the City's Top Inspirational Entrepreneurs, whilst Parental Choice was short-listed for the SME Employer of the Year Award by WorkingMums. A graduate of Bristol University, where she studied French and German, Sarah-Jane did her legal training at the College of Law in Guildford and then London. She began her career in financial law as a trainee and then junior associate within Linklaters' Equity and Debt Market Department. In 2004 she became an associate at Freshfields, a role which included a secondment to the New York office and to the Real Estate Banking Group at Goldman Sachs. From 2007 until 2011 Sarah-Jane was a senior associate at Berwin Leighton Paisner. It was whilst she was on maternity leave with her first child that Sarah-Jane started researching into childcare. As she explains, it didn't take long to recognise she was facing an uphill task: “There were nanny agencies telling me about nannies, local authorities offering contact details for childminders and various websites giving information about different nurseries, but what I really wanted was a central resource.” Sarah-Jane went back to work but realised that the time may have come to consider a change in career. “One evening my father asked what ever happened to my idea for a one-stop childcare shop. I thought, why not? I had never dreamed of starting my own business but it was something that seemed fundamental to me and to all parents out there facing the same issues as me.” She began sowing the seeds for what would become Parental Choice while she was pregnant with her second child and still working. A friend helped her to create the website, whilst contacts who were childcare and education experts assisted with the copywriting. At the same time as undertaking a huge programme of research, Sarah-Jane started retraining as an employment lawyer. Parental Choice was formed in June 2011 and was launched three months later. The first client came on board in August 2011 and her first employee, a friend who also happened to be an HR expert, joined as a consultant in September 2012 as the business was getting busier and busier. Today Parental Choice has grown to the point where it now has eight employees, with three additional members of staff due to join by the end of the year. As the company began to take shape so Sarah-Jane realised that helping other parents avoid the stress and hassle she had encountered was only part of what could be achieved. Already a firm believer that many companies were losing valuable talent and experience through parents leaving work due to lack of childcare and difficulties combining a career and family, she began to see what a valuable resource Parental Choice could be to employers too. Aside from running the business, Sarah-Jane is also a Changemaker supporting Working Families and is a member of the Regulation Matters campaign working towards the regulation of domestic care in the home. She has been involved with Government consultations on childminder agencies as well as speaking publicly at Government policy briefings on topics such as “Bridging the Gender Equality Gap - The Future Role of Women” and the “Back to Work for Women” programme. She has attended several HR summits in her role as director of Parental Choice, including speaking at the Institute of Director's “Women in Business” conference in 2014. Sarah-Jane also presents at law firms, banks and corporates on family friendly benefits, childcare options and businesses' family rights and obligations at work including flexible working, talent retention and shared parental leave reforms. www.parentalchoice.co.uk Sarah-Jane Butler is available for interview or comment on any matters relating to childcare issues in the UK For further information, please contact: Ruthe or Amber @ Jori White Public Relations Ltd Email: ruthe@joriwhitepr.co.uk/amber@joriwhitepr.co.uk or Tel: 020 7734 7001

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