The school summer holidays can be a stressful time for working parents as they try to juggle work and family life.
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- Childcare vouchers are a popular family-friendly benefit that employers offer staff.
- Flexible working and discount vouchers can be equally valuable.
- Employers should ensure they do not discriminate against staff without children.
But employers can offer considerable support to help them cope, and at relatively little cost.
Childcare vouchers are the most popular family-friendly benefit that employers currently offer staff. The Employee Benefits/Towers Watson Flexible Benefits Research 2014 , published in April 2014, shows that 86% of employers offer childcare vouchers, which remain the most popular benefit employers offer through flexible benefits plans.
Staff can take childcare vouchers up to the value of £2,916 each year and receive tax and national insurance breaks if they take them through a salary sacrifice arrangement.
Vouchers can be used for children up to the age of 15, or 16 if they are disabled, to fund a range of childcare services, including day nursery, nursery school and playgroup places , childminders and au pairs.
Vouchers can also be used to fund holiday schemes and out-of-school club places.
Andy Philpott, director at Edenred, says: “A lot of people don’t associate childcare vouchers with summer camps for older children. There is still the perception that they are for traditional childcare activities.”
Just after Easter each year, Edenred works with employers to encourage them to promote to working parents the fact that childcare vouchers can be used for summer activities. “It’s a cost-free way for employers to engage with working parents and doesn’t require too much effort,” says Philpott.
Ben Black, managing director at family-friendly benefits provider My Family Care, adds that playscheme places are music to most working parents’ ears, particularly when provided by their employer.
Bank of America and the Metropolitan Police Service are two employers that offer workplace playschemes through My Family Care.
Information for staff
Employers with no budget to offer their own childcare scheme can instead provide working parents with information about where schemes may be operating near their workplace and closer to their home.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of children’s charity 4Children, says: “Information and advice is very useful. There might be all sorts of things out there, but parents don’t know what that is, so employers can help them by providing some information about where they can go to get help.”
But whatever benefits employers choose to offer their staff, they must ensure they do not discriminate against staff without children.
Louise Wesley , director of operations at childcare voucher and daycare provider Busy Bees, says: “A flexible-working arrangement was always deemed to be for staff with dependants, but it’s better that employers offer it to the rest of the workforce, too.”
Edenred’s Philpott adds: “It’s important that strategies are not too working-parent focused. Employers should be diverse in the different types of groups of staff they engage.”
Employers can tailor the communications that underpin their benefits to engage with different groups of staff, including working parents. This may include empathetic messages, such as: ’We understand what it’s like, we know it’s tough, so take advantage of these benefits’, says Philpott.
Employers should also make it as easy as possible for time-strapped working parents to access these benefits, as well as information. Philpott adds: “Employers should have a look at the benefits provided out there, have a look at the systems and services on offer and get everything under one roof, so staff can manage them remotely.”