Parents urged to lobby their MP in bid to save childcare vouchers
Parents are being urged to make a final push to save childcare vouchers before the government stops new entrants from accessing them next month.
People power gained a six-month reprieve in March, and now mums and dads are being urged to lobby their MP to retain the Childcare Voucher Scheme, which is due to close on October 4.
The call has been issued by Employers For Childcare so that parents can continue to avail of financial assistance of up to £933 each via the scheme at a time when the cost of bringing up children has never been higher.
Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Northern Ireland families are now spending more than £6,000 per child on annual nursery fees.
In many cases, however, the £6,000 price tag - which equates to almost a quarter of the average salary here - can be significantly more, often rising to more than £8,000 per part-time place for many parents.
Aoife Hamilton, Information and Policy manager at Employers For Childcare, said it was time for MPs to step in and halt the closure of the childcare voucher scheme immediately.
"We have registered hundreds of new employers and over 1,000 parents to the scheme in the last three months but now we are taking calls from upset and worried parents no longer able to register," she said.
"These parents have either missed their September payroll cut-off date, their first born is due after October 4, or they are existing users but in the process of changing jobs and will now be excluded from joining the scheme with their new employer.
"This is creating hardship and stress for many families who have based their income and outgoings on being able to access childcare vouchers and now they have been left adrift.
"Their only hope is that MPs will stop the closure of the Scheme to new entrants."
Ms Hamilton said Employers For Childcare believes childcare vouchers should be kept open alongside tax-free childcare and parents should be able to move between the schemes as their circumstances change.
"Both schemes provide savings but were designed to help and support families with very different incomes and childcare costs," she said.
"Parents have told us their childcare needs change annually, therefore they need a flexible and comprehensive package of support and not a 'one size fits all' approach which this Government intends to create."
She added: "Working families deserve better than this. Visit www.theyworkforyou.com to find your local MP and contact them via email or their social media accounts. This is the last opportunity for parents to do before Parliament goes into recess on September 14."
Northern Ireland dad Peter Kealey has been using childcare vouchers for several years but he has just learned he can no longer avail of them because he recently switched jobs.
"I'm starting a new job on October 1 and I asked the firm if they could offer childcare vouchers," he said.
"My employer was fully supportive and made enquiries about setting up a childcare voucher scheme for the company but because I won't have been paid by my new employer prior to childcare vouchers closing on October 4, I can't re-join the scheme.
"I don't believe it's fair that I am being excluded from accessing this financial support, which has previously benefited my family, as a result of changing jobs in order to further my career.
"The government should be supporting working families. It's a disgrace I can't sign up to childcare vouchers, even though I will be in my new job before they close on October 4."