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- Multiple flexible benefits enrolment windows enable new starters to join a scheme sooner and give existing staff more chances to switch their benefits.
- Enrolment windows for insured benefits, pensions and holiday trading are less flexible and tend to be restricted by scheme providers or HR.
- Older IT platforms cannot cope with multiple enrolment points, so can only process annual enrolments.
- Multiple windows give employers more chance to communicate benefits.
Employers are moving away from a single annual window for enrolment in flexible benefits schemes, says Alison Coleman
When it comes to attracting, retaining and motivating staff, flexible benefits have proved their worth. By expanding the range of benefits employees can sign up to each year, employers can engage all segments of the workforce. But this broader approach to flex has also led to changes in the way employers offer it, with the annual enrolment window giving way to multiple enrolment opportunities throughout the year.
Matthew Gregson, managing consultant at Thomsons Online Benefits, says the maturing of the flex market and developments in the technology that supports schemes means there is a real appetite for more than one enrolment window.
“Until quite recently, the administrative burden on employers to facilitate anything more than a once-a-year enrolment period was simply too great,” he says. “The latest flex technology allows them to do that and this adds real value to the scheme.”
There are clear advantages to offering multiple enrolment windows. For example, there is likely to be increased take-up among new recruits, who may have just missed the annual sign-up and have to wait 12 months to join, and employees whose personal circumstances change will be able to choose different, more appropriate benefits sooner rather than later.
A good example of this, says Philip Curtis, managing director of Fair Care Employee Benefits, is childcare vouchers, which have been a driver in the move towards more frequent flex enrolment windows.
“Under HM Revenue and Custom rules, employees could opt in and out of these voucher schemes as and when they needed to,” he says. “Similarly, bikes-for-work schemes lend themselves to three or four enrolment windows a year, and as long as the enrolment data is reported to payroll, it is very easy to do.”
Opportunities to promote messages
Multiple enrolment windows also bring more opportunities for employers to promote messages about flexible benefits. But some may need to invest in a new flex system.
Curtis says: “The older IT systems behind flex are quite rigid and probably can’t be updated to support multiple enrolment periods. However, the pressure is on for employers to create more mini-enrolment windows and over the next few years, more will buy into the ‘anytime’ approach.”
But Gregson insists that offering extra enrolment periods does not necessarily mean any benefit, any time. “We are seeing the more mature flex schemes retaining a main annual window for pensions and insurance, with possibly a separate window for holiday trading,” he says. “There may be a mid-year or quarterly window for health and wellbeing benefits, and then a number of other benefits, for example retail and leisure vouchers,
that employees can sign up to at any time.”
Richard Morgan, head of corporate consultancy at Vebnet, says some benefits will still need to have fixed annual enrolment. “There will be restrictions on the frequency with which enrolment for insured benefits could be offered, as the policy renewal dates are in the hands of the providers, while the buying and selling of holidays, if made available more than once a year, would pose considerable problems for HR and line managers.”
Although the advantages of multiple flex enrolment windows might seem obvious, employers must consider how much flexibility is appropriate for their scheme.
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