back to article Childcare is a pain in the bum and so is HMRC's buggy subsidies site

More than 6,000 parents looking to access financial help with childcare have had difficulties with using HM Revenue and Customs' frequently broken Childcare Choices website. Applications, reconfirmations and the paying of fees for the government's tax-free and 30 hours' free childcare initiatives have all been affected, with …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's hasn't been outsourced to Carillion has it ?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "In House" - Kind of

    This is one of the pseudo "in house" services in our new world of government "Digital" companies running services. In this case delivery is allocated to HMRC's Revenue & Customs Digital Technology Services Ltd (RCDTS), a wholly owned GovCo.

    It's stuffed full to the gills of reverse-TUPEd ex-Aspire staff and day raters shuffled across to the private arm to avoid the IR35 inquisition. So effectively you've got the same actual people doing the delivery work, in a private company that doesn't have to bid for that work, running under contracts with no penalties for breaching SLAs, because the department would just be fining itself.

    You should not be surprised when their work implodes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "In House" - Kind of

      No sympathy - IR35 and it's idiotic ramifications are HMRC's doing, so they can eat their own dog food and enjoy it.

      (Not a contractor by the way)

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Um, I think you missed the part where they're not the ones impacted - the parents are.

        So they are definitely not eating their own dog food. They're at the restaurant with a fine meal. The parents are the ones eating the dog food and they're none too happy about it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "In House" - Kind of

      Not true I'm afraid. TFC has very little to do with RCDTS, and in fact RCDTS has almost nothing to do with the Digital services in general.

      TFC is developed by the HMRC Digital teams and the front-end (where the majority of the issues are) is actually developed and supported by NS&I, so not even HMRC (though the department is ultimately accountable). The HMRC Digital teams are largely ex-GDS types and directly engaged contractors, supplemented by teams body-shopped from the existing HMRC suppliers Capgemini and Accenture.

      Contractors working directly for RCDTS are subject to the same IR35 rules as those working for HMRC or other public bodies, i.e. deemed in scope. So nice try, but wildly factually incorrect.

  3. m0rt Silver badge

    Define response...

    "Speaking to The Register, a spokesperson said that the site had remained functional despite the problems for some users, and almost all parents still received a response within five working days."

    Technically a 404 error is a response.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Define response...

      I miss the 410 pages.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Define response...

      Technically a 404 error is a response

      "Chicken not found[1]"..

      [1] My wife[4] and I were doing our weekly shopping[2] and say a chicken priced at £4.04. We both looked at each other and (simultaneously) said "Chicken not found!". You had to be there[3]..

      [2] Such is the exciting and crazy world of the COCM household. All those cats don't feed themselves[5] y'know.

      [3] Or not. It was mildly amusing.

      [4] A minor web-monkey.

      [5] Well - theoretically they could[6] but with 7 cats in one household it would be somewhat of a strain on the local wildlife. And there are a couple of them who I suspect would not be terribly good hunters.

      [6] Apart from the young one - she's not allowed out yet - not had her second immunisation and hasn't been spayed. And, much as I like cats, we really, really don't want any more kittens.. (well - I would - but I'm under orders from a greater power[4] to not allow any more.)

  4. RyokuMas Silver badge

    First hand experience...

    Having seen my other half wrangling with this site on a monthly basis (until recently, when we pulled the kids out of childcare), and as a web developer by trade, I can fully confirm that the bunch of galloping cockwombles who built this have plumbed new depths of fuckwittery. Virtually every month resulted in our having to send an email of apology to the nursery about why our payment was late, and my poor long-sufferring other half was frequently reduced to outbursts of rage at whole evenings wasted attempting to get the site to cooperate.

    So I would humbly suggest that whoever came up with that 2% stat is talking utter bollocks.

    1. Kane Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: First hand experience...

      Upvote for galloping cockwombles.

      So good, I had to add it to the browser dictionary.

    2. Blotto Bronze badge

      Re: First hand experience...


      How do you get your other half to do that stuff?

      I have to to do it otherwise it just doesn't get done.

      And then the site doesn't work, or they won't do the reconfirmation online, or when i phone they say i have to wait 10 days for a letter from them telling me if i reconfirmation has been successfully. Top Tip:: if they don't tell you electronically that reconfirmation has been successful then its not been and you need to send them stuff they won't tell you about till 14 days after your submission & then they have a further 14 days to process.

      I now over pay every month in to the account so i have at least a months worth of nursery fees in there to deal with reconfirmation delays.

      The question is, if nothing changed why is reconfirmation so difficult?

      Once you know reconfirmation has failed, when you phone through they put you through to the reconfirmation team and they often just sort it out while your on the phone and it takes less than 5 mins for them to do and you to get the confirmation. You can't speak to them until you get the letter in the post telling you reconfirmation failed and tell them the letter ref so they can see it in their ystem.

      1. RyokuMas Silver badge

        Re: First hand experience...


        "How do you get your other half to do that stuff?"

        She's too god-damn stubborn to let it beat her. And she doesn't trust me - or anyone else - to get it right!

  5. adam payne Silver badge

    HMRC, which runs the website by itself, told the BBC that less than 2 per cent (6,400) of users have encountered problems.

    That's still 6,400 people that have had problems. Should there not be load balancing between multiple servers?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A bit too simplistic!

      Yes, absolutely there should be multiple servers and load balancers. But unless that's the issue and it's not something else, like network bandwidth, database I/O, or more probably shit code then it won't make a jot of difference.

  6. fangster

    Once you have gone through the pain of registering for 30 hours free childcare in the first place (need NI of both parents + current and previous work details and addresses), you then have to reconfirm it every 3 months/term. You get an email saying to log in and reconfirm. You click on the link. The page has many options none of which are log in or reconfirm. You guess. You are asked the DOB of youngest child. You are told that you will need NI details etc. You click next. There is an option to log in after which you can reconfirm without need any extra info! Fuckwits!

    1. druck Silver badge

      I didn't get around to registering until the 9th of January, but had no issue with the servers being overloaded them. Yes there are a few issues getting the HMRC ID (which is different to one you may already have self assessment tax) and starting the process, but after that it's hell of a lot better than many government sites, and I had both children registered within half an hour (would have been longer if my wife hadn't been there with her national insurance number memorised).

    2. Blotto Bronze badge


      The other annoying thing is paying the provider, the same provider you've been paying for months!

      until the last day or 2 (no longer asking for proof you've registered) you had to login to the childcare site which involves going to a stupid page to register or sign in

      you then have to prove you've registered by supplying your surname, dob & postcode

      then sign into government gateway

      await a text with a code to then enter on that page

      then navigate to the account options

      choose pay

      select the provider and choose the amount

      then it asks you 3 security questions like mothers maiden name, first car etc,

      then it allows you to pay the supplier who have pre registered on the HMRC site for the scheme and that you already have been paying from the site.

      Its a pain to operate, also they effectively add 25% to what ever you put on but a calculator would be handy, so if you need to pay £800 to the provider, the calculator would tell you you needed to add £640 (800-20%) to your account.

    3. Erroneous Howard

      @fangster - Haha yes exactly that. You have to enter that info just to reach the login screen, rather than just being directed to the login screen in the first place.....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    something to look forward to <crying face>

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      something to look forward to &lt;crying face&gt;

      Children or childcare?

      Nah, kids are fine. Anyway, legally speaking you only have to look after them until they leave home -- and then they're the responsibility of Social Services.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Too late, the kids are here already, it's the whole HMRC palaver which gives me the chill.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The classic government move of break it then outsource it.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Then pay through the nose for it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not sure who downvoted me, don't really care but I guess you don't know about the NHS.

  9. 0laf Silver badge

    Digitally transformed

    Welcome to digital. Where you need to use your finger to dial a number to go on the phone to fix a problem with the badly designed, probably never maintained website.

    But don't worry and don't bother complaining. The Contractor who was employed to deliver the site no longer works for us so you can't ask for him to be sacked. But no one else who know anything about it works here now either.

  10. tictac

    Where there's a blame there's a claim

    As an affected parent it looks like the amount of compensation paid out so far seems a little low considering 2600 of us have been having problems (and I don't believe that number is correct either). Not having access to the childcare top-up account thing (my wife understands it far better than I) cost us over £1000 until our issue was resolved.

    Now I do have twins so our claim might be on the high side compared to most, but still. Is their speed in compensating people astonishingly slow, or are people not trying to get back what is rightfully theirs?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where there's a blame there's a claim

      Blame you say? Yes, I blame the parents. Pay your own childcare costs and stop being a burden on the taxpayer.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Where there's a blame there's a claim

        And while you're at it, pay for your own education, you annoying little sprogs, and stop being a burden on the taxpayer. Pay for your own damn vaccinations as well. And I don't see why I, the great British taxpayer, should have to shell out on Social Services to stop your fag-junky parents from beating the crap out of you and starving you to death, or for the police to arrest you or for the courts to try you, and definitely not forty-three grand a year to keep your lardy arse in prison for twenty years. God, look at what this country has come to...

        In other words, fuck off AC, you ignorant twat.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Where there's a blame there's a claim

          Ha Ha Ha! Hook line and sinker...

          All those things - education, social services, health care, emergency services, justice, prison services are being starved of funding. The government then cons you into voting for them by offering an olive branch - in this case a few quid towards child care which was a headline policy in their manifesto, a policy which in reality costs pretty much fuck all. If you think this is really about providing child care you're deluded. It's about appeasing you into believing the government cares about you when in reality you've been hoodwinked into looking away whilst they smash every other public service into ruins.



      2. tictac

        Re: Where there's a blame there's a claim

        Well if I didn't have to pay for other people's cosmetic surgery (google Josie Cunningham) I wouldn't feel so entitled to bit of childcare support. But I do, so I do.

      3. Kane Silver badge

        Re: Where there's a blame there's a claim

        "Blame you say? Yes, I blame the parents. Pay your own childcare costs and stop being a burden on the taxpayer."

        Is that you, Big John?

  11. unwarranted triumphalism

    Cue the usual whining from the 'childfree' brigade about how 'their' tax money is being spent. Here's a thought - instead of whining about how you are such failures at life, why not try doing something constructive about it instead?

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Cue the usual whining from the 'childfree' brigade about how 'their' tax money is being spent

      Speaking as a happy member of the childfree brigade I'm entirely happy for my taxes to be spent on childcare. Likewise the NHS, support for foreign countries and social services in general.

      What I object to is spending vast wedges of cash on a totally dysfuncional MoD. Armed forces - yes, MoD, no.

  12. 0laf Silver badge

    The 'Child free' brigade often forget they'll need a supply of young workers to wipe their arses in their dotage

    1. unwarranted triumphalism

      They'll have enough money to hire your children to do it. It's not *my* duty to reproduce because *you* want cheap labour when you're old.

      1. Alistair Silver badge

        @ UT

        Umm. No they wont. NoKids? NoImmigints? -- They will be taxed to 0 as they get older. Extra taxes likely after they depart the workforce. You think that lot are *saving* that money they don't spend on sprogs? Hell no, its going on smashed avocado on toast delivered by uber eats to the $45/day shared office space they use while on 0 hours contracts to VC funded startup 'disruptors'.

        1. unwarranted triumphalism


          Try making sense for a change.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The sytem is also crap for chilcare providers...

    I have first-hand experience of this, some providers have not been paid for up to 4 months. And after numerous phone calls last up to 45 minutes at a time you are just told that they are having problems with the new system.

  14. ecofeco Silver badge

    I'm running out of clever titles for FAIL

    To fail at building a website is inexcusable.

    Here we are 20 years on into the Internet age and bad websites are still a thing? Maybe if they stood with the basics and quit trying to see how many angels can dance on the head of pin with as much wanking frippery as they can fit into the kitchen sink, websites may be fast and usable again.

    Bah, who am I kidding, gingerbread houses will always the choice of the hoi poli and engineers of all stripes will make something complicated just for job security.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm running out of clever titles for FAIL

      Your onto something there, that's why they are teaching kids html so they can build websites that work.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: I'm running out of clever titles for FAIL

        that's why they are teaching kids html so they can build websites that work

        HTML is the simplest, most trivial parts of a website. Security and authentication are a tad more difficult.. (although if bloated plutocrats like Saisburys can get it right why can't the Government? They (theoretically) have the ability to throw vast resources at the issue..)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I must admit I've been finding all talk about how there will be "new" IT systems in place when BREXIT happens to be a tad amusing, things like new IT systems for farm subsidies, etc when pretty simple things like this can't even be sorted!

  16. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    Why do they always make these things a once a year deadline- and then to do it on a day where nobody is at work to fix things?

    I always thought that your tax return deadline should be different for everyone (like your birthday) so you spread the load through the year

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Deadline

      Unfortunately that would make it difficult to implement changes to tax regulations.

  17. Slickster79

    Ha! Moat users receive a response in 5 days. I've been waiting 5 months and they still can't fix a technical glitch!

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