Childcare Payments Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
David Slater, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, on the final day of the Committee. Whereas clauses 29 and 30 provide for tax credit or universal credit awards to be terminated automatically if parents claim top-up payments, clauses 31 and 32 make similar provisions, but the other way round. They deal with scenarios where parents might attempt to move from top-up payments to tax credits or universal credit. If a person or their partner is receiving top-up payments following a valid declaration of eligibility, but then goes on to make a successful claim for tax credits or universal credit, clauses 31 and 32 state that they will be automatically disqualified from claiming top-up payments through disqualification notices.
The clauses allow for some exceptions. For example, if a parent experiences a change in circumstances, they will receive a warning or subsequently a disqualification notice. They will therefore continue to claim top-up payments for the rest of the entitlement period. Regulation 18 of the draft statutory instrument on eligibility conditions, which we have published, lists those circumstances, including all the changes that might affect a person’s ongoing eligibility. Given those allowances and exceptions, can the Minister confirm that if a parent’s or their partner’s circumstances change within an entitlement period, they will be able to receive top-up payments until the end of that period, while potentially claiming tax credits or universal credit at the same time? Is that correct? If so, can she confirm that there will be short periods when parents could find themselves entitled to more than one scheme if their circumstances change within the entitlement period?
Presumably, the exceptions will allow parents to move between schemes and not be punished for the complexities in them, which is an issue that we have raised on a number of occasions and that is of huge concern to a number of Committee members. Any measures to mitigate the difficulties that parents might face when moving between the schemes would be welcome. It would be helpful if the Minister confirmed that that is what is being provided for here.
Clause 33 sets out the rules for when and how disqualification notices can be issued. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can issue them only after it has issued a warning notice, and they can remain valid for a maximum of three years. Subsection (7) provides that a disqualification notice can be revoked by HMRC. Can the Minister set out a scenario in which HMRC might revoke a disqualification notice?
Are those notices deemed to be punishment? I know we do not like to talk in those terms, but if parents attempt to move between schemes when they are not allowed to, as set out in clauses 31 and 32, I would be surprised if HMRC did not want to retain some ability to give them a penalty. Could disqualification notices be revoked if a person’s or their partner’s circumstances subsequently changed again and they then became eligible for top-up payments? I appreciate that I am touching on a number of complexities, but it is key that HMRC has thought through all the potential scenarios. It would be helpful to have some clarity on how HMRC will deal those circumstances.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. Clauses 31 to 33 put in place safeguards against cases where a person may seek to abuse the scheme. We want to ensure that parents can receive the support with their child care costs that best suits their circumstances in as straightforward a manner as possible. That will include cases where a family’s circumstances change, as the hon. Lady said, such that they qualify for tax credits or universal credit instead. Where that is the case, such families can leave the scheme when their need is greatest; they will not have to wait until the end of the entitlement period.
We recognise that families’ circumstances can change—sometimes unexpectedly. The scheme has been designed with sufficient flexibility to support families as they move off benefits and into work, and vice versa. I can confirm that as such changes occur, parents will be able to move to tax credits or universal credit without having to wait until the end of their entitlement period. They will therefore have a period of support in both schemes. Specifically on the hon. Lady’s point, however, there will be no gap in support.
I emphasise again that the aim of these measures is not to have a draconian scheme or to penalise anyone, but to ensure that, when people are motivated to abuse the scheme, such abuse is prevented. There should be no unintended consequences that cause hurt to people who are moving from the scheme.
The rules are not open to deliberate abuse and, for that reason, clauses 31 to 33 put safeguards in place to prevent cases in which a person seeks to abuse the scheme by repeatedly switching between it and either tax credits or universal credit for financial advantage when they have had no change in circumstances. Clause 31 provides for circumstances in which a person makes a successful claim for tax credits during an entitlement period when they have not had a genuine change in circumstances. If they return to the scheme within 12 months, HMRC may issue a notice that warns them that they may be disqualified from the scheme if they do that again within four years.
Clause 32 permits HMRC to give a parent a formal warning that they could be disqualified from the new scheme if they claim universal credit while receiving
Clause 33 allows HMRC to disqualify from the scheme a person to whom it has given a formal warning under clause 31 or 32. When a person has been disqualified in that way, they will be unable to open a child care account, receive top-up payments or make a declaration of eligibility. The length of the disqualification cannot be more than three years.
Those rules are necessary to protect the scheme against a small minority—I emphasise that it is small—who might seek to receive multiple sources of Government support to which they are not entitled. Should we get information about any mitigating circumstances, it will be within HMRC’s territory to revoke the disqualification notice.
The Committee will agree that the Bill is about supporting families who need financial support. These clauses are specific: when a person repeatedly switches between schemes without a change in circumstances, we will attempt, within HMRC’s parameters, to prevent that minority from abusing the scheme.
We have only a few issues to raise regarding clauses 34 to 37, which outline how top-up payments will be recovered in a number of circumstances relating to tax credits and universal credit. I want to take the opportunity to raise again some of the important issues we discussed last week relating to the information that is to be made available to parents so that they have the correct advice when moving between schemes and can make informed choices. As we discussed, their decisions will be complicated.
We also heard last week that the timetable for universal credit has been pushed back further and that there is a possibility that the Government are considering changing the hours rules so that parents will have to work longer to qualify for support. Will the Minister clarify the issues arising from that? The system is so complicated, with variables not only in child care costs but in hours worked, pay received, other benefits received and so on, that it will be incredibly difficult for families on the borderline to know under which scheme they will be better off. We would like that to be addressed in these clauses.
Priti Patel: Clauses 34 to 37 set out the rules that will allow HMRC to recover top-up payments when a parent receives a backdated tax credit or universal credit award payment following a successful review or appeal. The Government do not intend to provide duplicate support for child care under the new scheme, so tax credits or universal credit will require a mechanism to deal with such scenarios.
The clauses will apply when a person or their partner has asked for a review of, or appeals against, a decision to refuse or end a tax credit or universal credit award, and then claims support under the new scheme while the review or appeal is conducted. If the review is successful, the parent will receive a backdated tax credit or universal credit payment, and HMRC will recover the top-up payments received for that same period.
Clause 34 allows HMRC to recover the Government top-up payments when there is a backdated tax credit payment following a successful review that covers a period in which a parent claims support under the new scheme. Clause 35 provides for similar rules that allow HMRC to recover the top-up payment when there has been a backdated tax credit payment following a successful appeal.
Clause 36 permits HMRC to recover top-up payments in cases in which a parent has received a backdated universal credit payment for the same period, following a review. It mirrors the provision for tax credits in clause 34 that I have just mentioned. Clause 37 allows HMRC to recover top-up payments when there has been a backdated universal credit payment for the same period following a successful appeal.
This amendment, and amendment 20, are consequential on amendment 18. They provide that a childcare provider who does not comply with the requirement to pay the repayable amount to the account provider is liable to pay the top-up element of the payment to HMRC.
The explanatory statement for amendment 19 also applies to this amendment.
Catherine McKinnell: I have a point of clarification. Clause 39 deals with the recovery of top-ups in cases in which parents or HMRC have made an error. It suggests that top-up payments will be recoverable if they have been paid to a person who was not entitled to them. Presumably that covers payments HMRC has made in error. If so, how would it recover those payments? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that for the Committee.
The clause allows HMRC to recover top-up payments if they are made to a person who is not entitled to them. It also allows it to recover such payments when they have been spent on something other than qualified child care. As I explained when we considered clause 20 last week, such a payment is known as a prohibited payment.
The clause also allows HMRC to recover top-up payments when a repayment is made directly to an account holder. That might occur when, contrary to the requirement in clause 23, a child care provider makes a repayment directly to a parent, rather than into the child care account. Part of that repayment will represent the top-up payment from the Government, so the parent will be liable to pay the top-up element to HMRC.
When a prohibited payment has been made, there is provision in the clause to recover funds from any person who dishonestly caused or allowed that payment to be made. It is possible, for instance, for there to be collusion between a parent and a child care provider, and the clause will ensure the effective recovery of public funds in such circumstances. HMRC’s ability to recover top-up payments extends to cases where such payments have been made due to the dishonesty of a director or officer of a company.
We anticipate that the vast majority of parents will comply with the scheme rules and that HMRC will not have to recover top-up payments from them. However, the clause is needed to deal with cases in which that is not the case. Specifically on the hon. Lady’s question, HMRC will have the ability to recover payments from parents, but its technical means and the way it functions will also give it the ability to pay into accounts. There should, therefore, be no problem with recovering top-up payments or putting money back into accounts.
It is worth highlighting again that we have talked extensively about keeping the scheme simple—simplicity is at its core. That is very much about ensuring that information about registration and children is correct so that there is no room for errors to occur.
Catherine McKinnell: I thank the Minister for her reply, but I should clarify that my query relates to cases in which HMRC may have made an error. It is not unheard of for HMRC to make a payment into an account that then needs to be recovered, and parents on lower incomes, in particular, will be concerned about that. Does the clause cover such situations? If so, have the Government thought through how they would approach a case in which HMRC, rather than a parent, has made an error in terms of payments into an account?
Priti Patel: I thank the hon. Lady for restating her point. Simplicity is central to the scheme, and it is worth touching on the balance of the account. We have spoken about 80% being the parent contribution and 20% being the top-up funds. It is therefore extremely unlikely that there would be an error by HMRC. The scheme has been designed that way so that HMRC cannot make an error. I recognise the hon. Lady’s point that errors do happen, and that is true in other aspects of the tax
This is a probing amendment, intended to establish what would constitute a failure to take reasonable care and what the impact of that definition might be.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 13.
Lucy Powell: Clause 41 deals with penalties in cases where “careless or deliberate” errors are made. Amendment 13 is a probing amendment to ask the Government how they intend to define and measure carelessness. The consultation response set out scenarios where HMRC will be able to charge penalties, all of which are covered. In one scenario,
A person who makes such an inaccurate declaration under the clause will be liable to pay a penalty if the inaccuracy is “careless or deliberate”. We clearly understand and fully support the need for penalties in cases of deliberate dishonesty, but it is more difficult to understand the reasoning behind the need to penalise those making careless mistakes. Indeed, we struggle to understand how we can actually define a careless mistake.
What exactly does the Minister mean by “carelessness” in this case? How will she evaluate whether somebody has failed to take the “reasonable care” described in subsection (2)? What constitutes failure to take reasonable care? Some of those points were of particular concern when we still had the three-month period for the self-employed—I reiterate our thanks to the Minister for her response, as we are now looking at a one-year period for the tax return for the self-employed—but they are still an issue for those who are not self-employed and who are just using the top-up scheme ordinarily.
How does the Minister define carelessness and how will she evaluate whether somebody has acted carelessly? If someone has—or is deemed to have—acted carelessly, when will a penalty be communicated to them? Will they have any right of recourse if it was a careless mistake? This is a good opportunity for her to clarify some of those points. because it seems in the explanatory
Priti Patel: Amendment 13 would remove the penalty for careless errors made in declarations of eligibility for the scheme. Amendment 14 is partly a consequential amendment. As the hon. Lady has said, amendment 13 is a probing amendment, so there is a great opportunity to clarify the position. I am happy to put on record some examples to illustrate how the penalty might apply as well as examples of careless and deliberate error. An error is careless if the parent did not know that the information they provided was wrong, but they would have known if they had made the checks; if they had sat down and made conscientious checks. The error occurred because they did not make the full checks that they should have made. If they had done so, they would find that they had made an error. It is clearly a minor error made as a result of carelessness and not paying attention to the detail when putting the information in.
A good example is completing an online declaration. We have all filled in online forms, so we have experience of them. A parent who has been living with a partner for many years might accidentally tick a box to say that they have no partner. Before they submit their declaration, the system asks them to confirm all the information that they have entered and summarises it back to them, and they declare everything correct even though there is an error in the form. Anyone can mis-enter information accidentally when typing fast; that is inevitable. However, the failure to notice such an obvious mistake would be defined as a careless error.
Lucy Powell: I thank the Minister for that reply. I understand the circumstances that she describes. To probe further, what alarm or communication mechanism will be visible on the declaration to enable parents to understand the seriousness and consequences of making a careless mistake? She, like me, will know that when we do things on the internet these days, we are all invariably asked to agree to terms and conditions that we do not read but tick anyway. Perhaps people do not take things quite as seriously online. Can she clarify the position so that parents are absolutely clear that such an error will be penalised?
Priti Patel: This is about the system and its construction and design. If errors come through after the input of wrong information—even, as I have highlighted, the wrong address or something of that nature—the system will flag it if part of the form does not make sense. Also, on screen, we will absolutely ensure—this comes back to the issue of communication with parents and individuals—that we specify the eligibility criteria for the registration process and what the consequences are of deliberately providing misleading or false information.
This is not about having a system that penalises people who make unforced errors; I know that we are using the term “careless errors”, but they are unforced, undeliberate errors. It is part of the system design. The information associated with the communication around the entire scheme will make it absolutely clear that anyone who deliberately goes out of their way to mislead or claim wrongfully will face severe consequences. That will deter such individuals and hopefully ensure that people provide the right information.
We have covered careless or unintended errors, although that is not the appropriate term, and we must balance that against deliberate errors on declarations made by parents who know that they are providing false information. The system will weed them out. Obviously and rightly, there will be penalties to ensure that that cannot happen. I trust that that answers the hon. Lady’s questions about how potential errors might be treated.
This amendment provides that, where HMRC have issued a warning notice to a person to comply with an information notice and the person is permitted to bring a late appeal against the information notice without formal approval from the tribunal, the warning notice from HMRC will have no effect.
Priti Patel: Clauses 42 to 47 contain the remaining penalty provisions for the new scheme. This is a good opportunity to describe them in greater detail. For the time being, I would like to say that it is essential, as we have discussed, to have a robust regime of sanctions and penalties to deter those who attempt to abuse the scheme. Government amendments 21 and 22 will make minor technical changes to clauses 42 and 44. I emphasise again that we anticipate that the vast majority of parents will not be affected by the clauses, as there is no reason to suppose that they will do anything to warrant HMRC taking action against them.
Clause 42 allows HMRC to charge a penalty of up to £300 where someone fails to provide information or documents. Clause 43 allows HMRC to charge a greater penalty of up to £3,000 where someone provides information or documents that are inaccurate, whether they do that deliberately or are going out of their way to misinform HMRC.
Clause 44 enables HMRC to impose a penalty on someone who repeatedly uses the funds in their child care account for any purpose other than qualifying child care. As the Committee will recall, that is referred to in the Bill as a prohibited payment and the value of that penalty is 25% of the total value of the prohibited payments that have been made. Clause 45 sets out the penalties applying when someone obtains a top-up payment dishonestly. It allows HMRC to impose a civil penalty in cases where it does not pursue a criminal prosecution.
Clause 46 sets out how HMRC may assess and notify any penalty to which a person becomes liable under the scheme, and those penalties must be paid. Clause 47
I have touched on Government amendments 21 and 22, which make minor changes respectively to clauses 42 and 44. They ensure that all the clauses work properly in all cases where parents make late appeals.
This amendment provides that, where HMRC have issued a warning notice to a person who has made a prohibited payment and the person is permitted to bring a late appeal against the assessment for the prohibited payment without formal approval from the tribunal, the warning notice from HMRC will have no effect.
This amendment removes the ability of HMRC to disqualify persons from the scheme because a penalty for dishonest conduct has been imposed on them under another enactment.
Clause 48 allows parents to be excluded in three circumstances: where they have acted dishonestly in the scheme; where they have been dishonest in obtaining another Government benefit; or where they have been penalised for their actions in the scheme on multiple occasions. Clause 49 allows child-care providers to be removed from the list of child-care providers that can receive payments from the parent under the scheme if they, too, have acted dishonestly.
Catherine McKinnell: Clauses 51 to 54 also provide for enforcement actions, but deal specifically with debt recovery. The Government’s original consultation considered the best way to reclaim overpayments, penalties or interest owed. In their response to the consultation in March, they took the advice of respondents who suggested that, in the first instance, the Government should be able to recover debts directly from child care accounts. That is provided for in clause 52.
Respondents also felt that HMRC should be able to adjust parents’ PAYE or self-assessment tax code, as they perceived such adjustments to be an effective and less intrusive means of debt collection. The Government response indicated that HMRC would have that power, stating:
However, the Bill does not seem to provide for those specific measures. The response to the consultation also suggested that when neither approach was successful, direct debt recovery action would be pursued—but again, that does not appear to be provided for in the Bill.
On clause 52, will the Minister set out whether the Bill gives HMRC the powers I have outlined? Will HMRC be able to adjust parents’ tax codes to recover debts? Will it be able to take direct recovery action, as the consultation response seemed to indicate? If so, will the Minister outline how the process will work?
I have raised those issues because, in her evidence to the Committee, Samantha Mann from the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals highlighted a potential problem with recovering top-up payments through tax code adjustments from a payroll point of view. She was concerned that, although such payments could be recovered through the tax code, it would affect employers, particularly from an administrative perspective.
Will the Minister clarify whether the Bill will provide for HMRC to pursue debt recovery in the manner I have outlined? If so, what is the Government’s response to Samantha Mann’s concerns? Do they recognise that it could be complex for employers? Will the Minister clarify exactly how debt recovery under the Bill will work in practice? It would be helpful for members of the Committee, as well as other interested parties who I am sure are either following proceedings now or will go over them in due course, if she could iron out some of those complexities and queries.
What is the day on which the person became liable to pay? Is it the day on which they are assessed as being liable, or is it 30 days later, when the review period has ended? If it is the first of those options, the person will never catch up: every time he or she pays, a bit more interest will be added, which will be rather a pain. If it is the end of the review period, the Bill should say that, rather than
Clause 51 allows HMRC to offset the associated amount repayable under the scheme against the backdated tax credit award when parents win a tax credit review or appeal. That gives parents the right level of support from the start and avoids making them go into debt when there is no need for them to.
Clause 52 allows HMRC to recover undue scheme debts from funds in the parents’ child care accounts. Clause 53 sets out that, when a parent who has a scheme debt withdraws funds from their child care account, the top-up element of the withdrawal will reduce the parent’s scheme debt.
Coding out by means of PAYE has been mentioned. The first attempt to recover due amounts will be made from the funds in a child care account. If that is not possible, the debt will be passed over to the standard HMRC debt collection process. That could include coding out, with the individual’s approval.
To put the issue into context, I should say that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, because everything is down to personal circumstances. The measure provides a simple, easily understood way for any moneys due in connection with the child care account to be recovered with minimum fuss. That is central to the scheme’s design—to its simplicity and clarity—and very much part of the way in which families and households are engaged with should they find themselves in this scenario with HMRC.
It is fair to say that parents will have plenty of opportunity to agree how their debts will be paid before HMRC can, or does, use any power to recover those debts from a child care account. That is part of the ongoing dialogue about the development of the scheme and about making sure we listen to parents and stakeholders so that we get this right and accommodate their concerns.
Mr Heath: I do not think I heard an answer to my question about the interrelationship between clauses 40 and 50, as mediated by clause 56, which we have not yet come to. Clause 56 specifies the point at which a payment must be made, saying that it must be made before the end of the relevant period. I am questioning when the liability applies. Is it from the point of assessment or at
Priti Patel: I thank the hon. Gentleman for reiterating his point. Interest starts when the debt is overdue. That will be when review and appeal avenues are closed—that comes back to the dialogue that takes place between the individual and HMRC. If there is no review, it will be 30 days, but it will be later if the case is reviewed and if an appeal is necessary.
Mr Heath: I am grateful to the Minister, but, with respect, I do not think that is what the clause says. It does not say when the debt is overdue, but when it is liable. Will the Minister speak to her officials before Report to see whether the drafting is correct?
This amendment allows an appeal to be made against a decision by HMRC as to whether or not to revoke an account restriction order. This means that it will be possible to appeal against any decision made by HMRC in connection with restrictions on childcare accounts.
Priti Patel: Clauses 55 to 60 allow parents who are unhappy with HMRC’s decision under the scheme access to a normal, modern system of reviews and appeals. There is a mandatory first step of an HMRC review, after which parents can appeal to the normal first-tier tribunal.
Clause 55 lists which HMRC decisions can be appealed against. That will allow parents to challenge any decision that denies them access to the scheme, denies them top-up, asks them to repay top-up or imposes a penalty. It also states that no appeal is possible before a review has been done.
Clause 56 sets out the details of how reviews must be carried out and requires HMRC to give proper notice of the result of the review. Clause 57 allows HMRC to consider reviews late when there is good reason for the
Government amendments 24 to 26 make minor changes to the list of appealable matters in clause 55 and require HMRC to inform parents of their appeal rights. Government amendments 27 and 28 change clause 58 to make it clear that such appeals are made directly to the appropriate tribunal.
This amendment corrects a minor drafting error.
“( ) Where a person is notified of an appealable decision under this Act, the notification must include details of the person’s right to apply for a review of the decision and to appeal against the decision.”—(Priti Patel.)
This amendment provides that, in relation to any appealable decision, HMRC are required to inform the person affected by the decision that he or she has a right to apply for a review of the decision and, subsequently, to an appeal.
This amendment and amendment 28 make a minor change in relation to the appeal process. They ensure that the rules which apply generally in relation to appeals made to the appropriate tribunal apply here as well.
( ) “The appropriate tribunal” means’.—(Priti Patel.)
The explanatory statement for amendment 27 also applies to this amendment.
The second scenario is that a person is waiting for employment and support allowance or carers’ allowance to be paid to them in order for HMRC to confirm their eligibility, so their declaration is valid. Again, that process could take several months, so the person would be entitled to compensation. The third is that a person is waiting for disability living allowance, personal independence payment or armed forces independence payment to be paid for HMRC to confirm their eligibility.
I do not want to distract the Committee by discussing how long it might take someone to get PIP or DLA eligibility under the current system, as I trust that Ministers will keep on top of that issue. However, given that each of those three scenarios could take several months, and the third one could take a year or more, will the Minister clarify whether the payment will only ever be the 20% of the child care costs that the parent would have otherwise got during that period, up to the maximum amount? Alternatively, will there be additional compensation for families who, for example, incurred extra costs and got into debt while awaiting such a payment? The Bill is not clear on that, so will there be compensation over and above any entitlement, given that such cases could take months and months and be of great cost to households?
Priti Patel: Clause 61 requires HMRC to pay compensation to a parent where they have been unable to receive support under the new scheme in certain circumstances. It requires HMRC to pay a parent an amount equivalent to the top-up payment that they should have received but, in fact, did not for reasons outside their control.
The effective compensation will be 20% of the child care costs incurred during the time in which a parent was unable to access the scheme. That amount will be subject to the same limit that applies to top-up payments in the schemes: an individual payment will never exceed £2,000 a year.
In such circumstances, it is only right that parents should receive a payment in compensation. For example, a person might have successfully appealed against a decision by HMRC that prevented them from opening an account, but, by the time that appeal was resolved, they might no longer need the account. They should be compensated for the top-ups that they would have received during that process. It is right to acknowledge that sometimes things go wrong and that we need to put them right. The clause allows HMRC to do that.
I said that the maximum amount of compensation would be 20% of the amount spent on qualifying child care costs, and I will give an example. On 1 January, HMRC might decide that a person who has applied for a child care account is not eligible. That person might then appeal successfully against that decision, so HMRC opens a child care account for them on 1 April. That person would be able to get that compensatory payment of 20% for the child care costs that they incurred during
‘Sections 62 and 63 shall not come into force except as specified in paragraph (a) below.
(a) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall bring the section into force by order within six months of the passing of this Act.
(b) a statutory instrument containing an order under paragraph (a) shall be accompanied by a report which details the impact of the restrictions under sections 62 and 63 on—
(i) the value of Government childcare support available to eligible persons;
(ii) the take-up and availability of family-friendly schemes in businesses; and
(iii) the participation rate of employers in childcare support schemes.’
Lucy Powell: New clause 6 is a probing new clause to explore further the impacts of grandfathering employer-supported child care on two issues that we heard about during our oral evidence sessions. The first is about family-friendly business practices in companies who support employees through the employer-supported child care scheme. The second is about whether those people who would be better off staying in the ESC scheme—single-earner households and others—will find that, over time, they cannot do that because their scheme is being phased out. We want to know what the Government intend to do about that.
As we have discussed previously, the so-called tax-free child care scheme is in many ways a superior version of the employer-supported child care scheme. It will certainly be available to many more people—the self-employed in particular, which is to be welcomed. However, as we heard in the oral evidence sessions, there are concerns about what role employers will continue to have in family-friendly business practices, because the current scheme enables them to have broader conversations with their employees. The Government have committed to
The intention of the Bill is to give many more families the benefits of employer-supported child care, which is why we are talking about the new proposals. However, there are some families who are not going to be eligible
Some employers will stop offering the employer-supported child care because of demand. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of that on those families? Has the Minister considered that? Those are the main issues around grandfathering the employer voucher schemes.
Priti Patel: Clauses 62 and 63 close to new entrants—or grandfather—the tax exemption and national insurance contributions disregard currently paid to employer-supported child care. However, they permit those already receiving such support to continue to do so for as long as they work for the same employer and the employer offers the scheme. New clause 6 would make the grandfathering of employer-supported child care contingent on the Government’s publishing a report within six months of Royal Assent. The report would cover the impact of closing the existing scheme to new entrants.
On the value of support received by parents, family-friendly employee packages more generally involve the participation of employers in the child care support schemes. We have repeatedly set out the reasons why the new scheme is a vast improvement on the current arrangements—most importantly, the extension to working families who meet the eligibility criteria. We have also been clear that, depending on circumstances, some parents currently in receipt of support under employer-supported child care will be better off staying in that scheme rather than moving to the new one. We have emphasised that existing users of employer-supported child care will be able to continue to receive support for as long as they choose to do so, provided that they remain with that employer.
As we have touched on before, alongside wider guidance and support we will provide a calculator and the mechanism to help parents decide which scheme works best for them. The new clause refers to the effect of grandfathering the existing scheme on the participation of employers in child care support schemes and the more family-friendly packages.
We are not abolishing the employer’s role in child care support; we are closing to new entrants the tax exemption and national insurance disregard for child care vouchers and directly contracted child care. However, that is very much about the proactive role of employers that offer family-friendly packages to their employees. We cannot escape the fact that fewer than 5% of employers currently offer employer-supported child care, which leaves out more than half of all employees, as well as all the self-employed. That is why we are having this discussion.
The new scheme will ensure that all working families, whether employed or self-employed, will be able to access the support provided they meet the eligibility conditions. Employers will be able to play a role in the scheme, if they want to, as part of the wider family-friendly employee package. For example, during the consultations, dialogues and discussions that we have had, many employers have told us that their role could include the provision of information to employees about the employer making payments into the child care account on behalf of their employee.
We estimate that about a million families will be better off once the scheme has been introduced, which is of course a vast improvement for those who currently receive no help. I have explained why the new scheme will be a vast improvement on the current one, how parents who are already in the employer-supported child care scheme will be able to remain in it if they prefer, and how employers will still be able to be involved in the new scheme. I therefore see no reason for the new clause to be added to the Bill, so I urge the hon. Lady not to press it.
Lucy Powell: I am happy not to press the new clause, but I urge the Minister to bear in mind those families who, over time, will find themselves worse off because they are prohibited from remaining in an employer scheme that is being wound down. Over the coming years, we should all keep a watchful eye out to ensure that employers really do play their part in the family-friendly package.
Catherine McKinnell: I just want to ask the Minister two or three questions about clause 67, which amends schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to make the operation of the scheme an excepted matter in terms of the devolution agreement. That is necessary because, despite the Bill’s rather misleading title, the child care scheme is neither a tax nor a duty, so it is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland and requires the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly through a legislative consent motion. The explanatory notes explain that the Bill does not deal with devolved matters in relation to Wales and Scotland, so there is no requirement for legislative consent motions from the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh National Assembly.
Will the Minister update the Committee on proceedings in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Has the Assembly passed the legislative consent motion? If so, my understanding is that all matters relating to the new scheme—who is eligible, the amount of support available and so on—will remain the sole preserve of the UK Government. Is the Minister aware of any calls or plans in Northern Ireland to amend the scheme so that it operates differently there? My understanding is that there were calls in Northern Ireland to operate top-up payments and employer-supported child care simultaneously, and that there is a reluctance to shut down the latter. Is the Minister aware of any such plans, and if so can she update the Committee on any relevant progress in Northern Ireland?
Priti Patel: I thank the hon. Lady for her questions about Northern Ireland. She will be aware that the Government wrote to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister immediately before the Bill was introduced. The Northern Ireland Assembly will debate the legislative consent motion on 4 November. Subject to the Assembly’s agreement, the Bill will cover Northern Ireland.
It is my understanding that a consultation has taken place in Northern Ireland. Given the byzantine way in which the Assembly works, the fact that the legislative consent motion is on the agenda for discussion means that the issue has got through the two main parties in the Executive, so there should be no difficulty in including clause 67 in the Bill.
“31 and 32 (disqualification of tax credit or universal credit claimants from obtaining top-up payments);”
This amendment makes the Treasury rather than HMRC responsible for making regulations under clauses 31(6) and 32(6).
Priti Patel: Clauses 68 to 72, which form part of the final provisions of the Bill, specify whether powers to make regulations under the Bill are exercisable by the Treasury or by HMRC, and whether they will be made by the affirmative or the negative procedure. They also define terms used in the Bill, provide a power to make consequential amendments and include necessary financial provisions. Government amendments 29 and 30 make minor corrections to clauses 68 and 69 in respect of the procedures for regulations made under clauses 31 and 32.
Clause 68 covers regulations made under the Bill. Clause 69 specifies that any regulations that have direct bearing on the way in which the scheme operates, such as the level at which Government support will be provided, should be subject to the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. Clause 70 defines various terms in the Bill, including “commissioners”, “HMRC” and “tax credits”. Clause 71 enables regulations to amend primary or secondary legislation when the Treasury considers it necessary or expedient to do so as a result of the provisions in the Bill.
Clause 72 provides that when National Savings & Investments or HMRC provide child care accounts, they cannot pay any amounts paid into those accounts into the consolidated fund, and that payments out of child care accounts will not be treated as expenditure
In the Bill as introduced, procedures for regulations made under clauses 31 and 32 were not quite right. Government amendments 29 and 30 rectify that situation. Amendment 29 makes a minor change to clause 68 giving the Treasury the power to make regulations for determining when HMRC will be able to disqualify people from the scheme because they have claimed tax credits or universal credit at the same time. Amendment 30 amends clause 69 so that the regulations defining what will be treated as a change in circumstances for the purpose of disqualifying people from using the scheme must be subject to the affirmative procedure when made for the first time.
“() the first regulations under each of sections 31(5) and 32(5);” .—(Priti Patel.)
This amendment makes the first regulations made under clauses 31(5) and 32(5) subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. These regulations will define what will be regarded as a change of circumstances for the purposes of disqualification from the scheme under clause 33.
This amendment, and amendment 32, ensure that any amendment or repeal made by the Act has the same extent as the provision amended or repealed.
Lucy Powell: I have only a small issue to raise with the Minister, on new clause 4. The new clause is intended to ensure that childminder agencies supply information to HMRC to help it administer tax-free child care.
The Minister will remember that we have had some lengthy discussions about child care supply and how important it is to ensure that the benefits of the scheme are not negated by price inflation. She will remember that some of that discussion was about the reduction in numbers of childminders and the fact that childminder agencies are part of the Government’s proposals for
Mr Heath: Perhaps the Minister could explain Government amendments 31 and 32. I do not think that I have ever seen these amendments to a Bill before. That may be simply because I do not happen to have done so, but is it not normally assumed that a repeal has the same extent as the measure repealed and an amendment has the same extent as the measure amended? I do not know why draftsmen have suggested that these are necessary amendments in this case. Perhaps the Minister knows a reason that I do not.
New clause 4, together with Government amendments 31 and 32, which amend clause 73, makes a small but important change to the rules that will help to ensure that the scheme is used as intended. The new clause places a requirement on childminder agencies to provide information to HMRC in connection with its responsibilities for running the scheme.
Childminder agencies were introduced earlier this year by the Children and Families Act 2014, and they act as intermediaries between childminders and parents. They are registered with Ofsted, and if a childminder is registered with a childminder agency, they are not required to register with Ofsted themselves.
It has always been the intention that care provided by childminders who are registered with a childminder agency will be treated as qualifying child care for the purpose of the scheme. The new clause requires childminder agencies to provide information to HMRC to enable it to check whether a childminder is properly registered. That will in turn help to ensure that Government support is being properly spent on qualifying child care.
Childminder agencies already have a requirement to provide information to HMRC in relation to its responsibilities for administering tax credits. The new clause extends that requirement to include its responsibilities under the new scheme. Because the Childcare Act 2006 extends only to England and Wales, steps are needed to ensure that the new clause also applies only in England and Wales, and that is what Government amendments 31 and 32 ensure.
Specifically on the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester Central, we have discussed supply frequently, it is fair to say, in the course of this Committee. It is an ongoing issue, there is no doubt about that. I will not rehearse or repeat the points that I have made previously. Obviously, the issue of supply is about what the Government offer outside Treasury provision; it very much relates to the Department for Education. The Government’s wider
‘(2) Any amendment or repeal made by this Act has the same extent as the provision amended or repealed.”—(Priti Patel.)
The explanatory statement for amendment 31 also applies to this amendment.
“In section 83A of the Childcare Act 2006 (supply of information to HMRC etc by childminder agencies), in subsection (2), in paragraph (b), for the words from “for the purposes of” to the end of that paragraph substitute “for the purposes of—
(i) their functions in relation to tax credits, or
(ii) their functions under the Childcare Payments Act 2014;”.”—(Priti Patel.)
This amendment requires childminder agencies to provide information to HMRC for the purposes of their functions under the Act.
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must undertake a review of the projected impact of this Act on childcare costs.
(2) The review must make reference to—
(a) trends in the cost of childcare for parents in work;
(b) the impact of other changes to the tax and benefits system introduced during this Parliament on the cost of childcare relative to the projected impact of this Act; and
(c) a comparative analysis of the projected impact of this Act on childcare costs relative to alternative prospective changes to the tax or benefits system to assist with the costs of childcare.
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must publish the report of the review within three months of the passing of this Act.”—(Catherine McKinnell.)
I am grateful for the opportunity to consider this Opposition new clause, which, as is customary with new clauses, is being taken at the end of our proceedings on the Bill. I am sure you will agree, Mrs Main, that we have dealt very efficiently with the Bill. Although the Opposition have raised a number of clarificatory queries about the mechanics of how it will operate, we have no issue with the Government administering their support in the way that has been proposed.
We do, however, have grave concerns about a much more substantive issue, which the Bill does not address. New clause 5 calls for a review of the lack of help the Government have provided over the past four years for parents struggling with child care costs, at the same time as they have cut in-work support for families, such as tax credits and benefits.
We therefore call on the Government to review the trends in the cost of child care for working parents not only as a result of the Bill, but in the context of the current climate and of the last four years. We want them to review the impact of other changes to the tax and benefits system over the past four years; how those things have affected the affordability of child care for hard-pressed parents; and, following on from that, whether the top-up payments provided for in the Bill will make a dent in the lack of support for working parents with child care costs.
I want to focus on the first of those issues—the worrying trend of soaring child care costs over this Parliament. It is worth reflecting on the context of this debate. In its 2010 manifesto, the Conservative party promised
The reality is that families face more pressures now than ever before: their living standards are being squeezed more than ever before, and, far from providing help with that, Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of this coalition Government have pulled the rug further out from under people’s feet through tax and benefit changes.
Catherine McKinnell: Indeed. The point I am making is that, because of these changes, parents face a real child care crunch. Child care costs have spiralled, the number of child care places has fallen and the support that families in work receive from the Government has been slashed. One consequence, which we have debated at length in this Committee, is that progress on child poverty has stalled. Our concern is that, although the Bill is welcome, it goes nowhere near far enough towards making up for what parents—especially those on low and middle incomes—have lost under this Government.
The point is perhaps best illustrated by the latest “The cost of a child” report, which the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The report found that the cost of bringing up a child has soared in the last year—up 8% for a couple and up 11% for a lone parent—with the incomes of families on the minimum wage falling far short of what is needed to afford just the bare minimum to bring up a child. The report has calculated that families working full time on the minimum wage are 18% short of the basic amount they need to live and raise a child. For lone parents working full time on the minimum wage, that shortfall is 13%.
The report simply confirms what we already know—that parents are really facing a child care crunch. That is why we have tabled the new clause: to press the Government fully to take on, consider and act on the rising costs of child care in the last few years and to set out what can be done now to support hard-pressed parents.
We know that the Family and Childcare Trust have calculated that families are paying more on average for part-time child care than they spend on their mortgage, handing over a staggering £7,500 a year for child care for two children—around 7.4% more than the average mortgage bill. Its survey also suggests that parents are seeing part-time nursery prices rise five times faster than their pay; in my region, the north-east, prices have risen by a staggering 50%. The average bill for a part-time nursery place of 25 hours a week has gone up to £107—the highest in history—and average weekly costs for a full-time place have risen by up to £200 or even more.
All that is why we have tabled the amendment calling on the Government to set out, as soon as possible, action that they could take now—immediately, not in 12 months’ time—to help parents manage their struggle with soaring child care costs. Although the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury dismissed it as unnecessary, we feel it is important to understand fully the added pressure of rising child care costs on family finances, and the new clause therefore calls on the Government to undertake the review and to recognise these concerns once again.
Parents are struggling with not just child care prices, but a chronic shortage of places. Ofsted figures show that there are now more than 35,000 fewer child care
However, perhaps most worrying of all are the changes to Sure Start, which is one of Labour’s proudest achievements in government. Sure Start seems to be in danger of disappearing, with support from Government level appearing to have been abandoned. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central revealed this summer, analysis of responses to a Labour party freedom of information request indicated that there are 628 fewer Sure Start centres since 2010—indeed, since the coalition Government took office. Not only that, but one in 10 children’s centres provides fewer services, one in six has seen a reduction in hours and one in five has fewer staff than in 2010. Those are the facts that we have managed to glean, but we know there is a much more worrying future on the horizon for Sure Start if action is not taken soon.
New clause 5 seeks to review the impact of changes to tax and benefits in this Parliament. One of parents’ concerns is that the Government’s changes to tax and benefits seem to favour the wealthy over the hard-pressed and also men over women—a crucial issue for child care. The Government have reversed the top rate of tax down from the 50p rate introduced by Labour to support deficit reduction. At the cost of £3 billion to the Exchequer, 85% of the recipients of that tax change are men.
At the same time, we have seen £15 billion-worth of cuts to measures that help support parents to stay in work and to get more hours in order to support their families. The changes, through tax credits, maternity grants, allowances and statutory maternity pay, all add up for families who we know are struggling. The cuts to tax credits alone have meant that some families have lost up to £15,060 a year, as we pointed out to the Government when the changes were introduced.
Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Is the hon. Lady saying that an incoming Labour Government would introduce all the measures that she is outlining, which she feels are desirable or necessary? If so, what would be the cost? Will that feature in the Opposition’s alternative Budget?
Catherine McKinnell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern about Labour’s manifesto. We have made a number of pledges for when a Labour Government are elected in 2015. We have also made it clear that we would not have made some of the changes that the Government have made. We would not have made the cut to the 50p tax rate, 85% of which goes to men.
Catherine McKinnell: Thank you, Mrs Main. I believe the concern of the hon. Member for Colchester for Labour’s economic plan post-2015 has led us down a road—[ Interruption. ] Suffice it to say that there are some very clear differences—[ Interruption. ]
Catherine McKinnell: Clearly, the facts speak for themselves. The House of Commons Library has estimated that, since 2010, families with newborns could be up to £1,725 worse off over two years—the year during pregnancy and the first year of a newborn’s life. There is also a new analysis of the households below average income statistics, which were published earlier this year and show that, under this Government, families with children have seen the biggest falls in income relative to those without children.
I point the hon. Member for Colchester to the promises made in both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat manifestos and the reality that has been borne out—particularly for families, which is obviously the issue in relation to new clause 5 and the Government support for child care. Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, a couple with two children aged five and 14 were, on average, £2,132 a year worse off, which is in contrast to a couple with no children, who were £1,400 a year worse off. A single person with two children aged five and 14 was, on average, £1,664 a year worse off, whereas a single person with no children was £936 a year worse off.
Of course, we know that the Chancellor intends to repeat the cuts to tax credits and other support for working families if he remains in office next May. We know where ministerial priorities will lie next May: more cuts to tax credits, hitting working women, particularly those on modest incomes; and a VAT rise, which Ministers refuse to rule out, because they are promising to keep their £3 billion tax cut for the very highest earners, more than 85% of whom are men. Those are just the tax and benefit changes; they are in addition to the impact of wages falling relative to prices, which has left working people on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010.
As new research published by the Resolution Foundation earlier this year suggested, official statistics may well have underestimated the challenge with the fall in living standards. If we take into account the wages of the self-employed, which official statistics do not, the fall in wages could be between 20% and 30% greater than we have thought. We know that these issues are particularly relevant for women and we know that child care lies at the heart of providing and ensuring support for some of the most vulnerable families.
I seem to be receiving exasperated sighs in response to my expression of concern on behalf of families up and down the country, but we know that the Government’s increase in the personal allowance, which I am surprised no Member has put forward as the solution to this issue, is far outweighed by the impact of the changes in support for working families with tax credits and benefits.
New clause 5 calls on the Government to give proper consideration to the plight that families face with child care costs, which we know will not be fully addressed by the top-up payments in the Bill. In any case, we know that for many families it is simply too little, too late.
Priti Patel: New clause 5 would require the Government to publish a review of the impact of the Bill on the cost of child care. Once again, the Opposition have proposed that that should be published within three months of Royal Assent. As I have said a number of times during our consideration, the Government have made a clear and firm commitment to review the impact of the scheme within two years of its implementation. That was set out in the impact assessment published alongside the Bill.
All Members are rightly concerned about the impact that high child care costs have on all working parents; that is not specific to a political party. We believe that the Government should support the child care sector to increase supply, which will help with the overall costs of child care. The Government are therefore making significant reforms to support the child care sector in increasing the supply of places.
Specifically on the action that the Government have taken to grow the supply of child care, I should say that we have been enabling good and outstanding childminders to access funding for early-years education places. We have legislated for the creation of childminder agencies to give parents and childminders more choice. We are actively encouraging primary schools to open for longer and are making it easier for schools to change their school day and offer out-of-school-hours facilities. We have also enabled registered child care providers to expand more easily to suitable premises. We have been enabling schools to accept automatically two-year-olds as well as three-year-olds. Forty schools across the country have been taking part in that demonstration project.
Reforming the role of education authorities to improve access to Government funding and to encourage new entrants to markets is absolutely key. The reforms are designed to ensure that an increase in the demand for child care will be matched by increased supply, rather than by increased cost.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The Minister is painting an optimistic picture of her expectations of the Bill. From the Opposition Benches, I wish her well and hope that her ambitions and optimism are borne out. Does she actually know how much change we will see over the next year or two? How many places does she expect to be created? Does she really expect that more people will come into the market and that we will see an expansion without a huge upwards inflation in the cost of child care?
Sammy Wilson: If that is the case and the Minister is already convinced that the reform will produce the results that she has described, and given the uncertainties around some of the changes that we are introducing, why is she opposed to an early assessment of the effects
Priti Patel: As we have discussed in previous debates on this Bill, we feel that the two-year assessment period for review is in the right balance. That is the right time to assess the full overall impact of the scheme in the Bill and our policy. It is much more reasonable, as we have discussed, to allow the full scheme to get up and running before examining the various factors that we will take into consideration. We have touched on those factors in debates on various clauses, but they include the roll-out of universal credit and increased supply of child care places.
On that point, we are making available grants of up to £2 million to help people set up new child care businesses. Obviously, those will come through into the system. We will also make up to 32,000 good and outstanding childminders automatically eligible for early education funding.
Lucy Powell: The Minister is talking about the reported increase in the number of child care places; I think she is including figures on school nurseries. Is she aware that during the same period, over the course of this Parliament, the number of children under five has increased significantly? The birth rate has risen by 500,000, and it is set to increase further in the coming years. The small measures that she has described will be dwarfed by increased demand from the birth rate alone, never mind demand as a result of increased support.
Priti Patel: I fully recognise the numbers involved, particularly those relating to the birth rate. Projections for school places also come into it, so the issue is not specific to the Bill. I do not consider the measures that the Government have announced to be small. They will boost supply significantly, and we should all welcome them.
Sammy Wilson: If the Minister is so convinced that the impact of the changes is already being felt, and given that the aim of the Government’s child care legislation is to get people back into work, why is she so reticent about testing the effectiveness of that policy? If the changes have the detrimental effects that people are assuming, other policies to get people off benefits and back into work could fail.
Priti Patel: We have discussed the time frame. The Bill focuses on getting families back to work, and it involves working across Departments. It sets out the right way of reporting back and reviewing the effectiveness of the scheme, working in conjunction with other Departments. It is not about reticence at all—we want to get it right and do it properly.
We understand the cost of child care. The Government are committed to helping parents with that cost, and that is what the Bill is about. In many of the previous debates, I have mentioned universal credit and the new early years premium, as well as the fact that we are mindful of costs. Specifically on the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester Central, costs have stabilised
Given the Government’s commitment in the impact assessment to reviewing the scheme, and in light of the fact that we have discussed the matter in debates on previous clauses, I am sure the Committee will agree that sufficient mechanisms are already in place to keep the scheme under the amount of scrutiny that it deserves. It does deserve ongoing scrutiny, as has been said in the Committee and as we have outlined in the impact assessment. Given the other measures that the Government are taking to support the supply of child care, we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the already high costs of child care stabilise rather than spiral further upwards. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North to withdraw the new clause.
Catherine McKinnell: I thank the Minister for her response. I believe that she is sincere in her belief about the support that the Government intend to provide through the Bill. However, the Opposition remain fundamentally concerned that the Bill will not address the situation in which too many families have been left. The cumulative changes to tax and benefits over the Government’s time in office have left many families worse off, and the Bill will go nowhere near far enough to make up for the shortfall that families are facing, part of the reason for which is the cost of child care.
We believe that the Government should take the issue more seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North has pressed them on the time frame they are using. A further two years is just too long a time for the Government to let the issue drift before taking serious action to review and, indeed, rectify the situation. We wish to press the new clause to a vote, because we believe that the review is an important issue that, at this stage, the Government are simply not taking seriously.
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall within three months of the coming into force of this Act lay before the House of Commons a timetable setting out precise details of the rollout of this scheme from autumn 2015 onwards.’—(Lucy Powell.)
Far be it for me to hold up Members from their early lunch, which is imminent, as we discuss the last new clause. I will only speak for about 45 minutes on new clause 7—no, I am joking. It relates to the timetable for the roll-outs and the details of them, and we want to take this opportunity to probe the Minister further on some of the timetable and communication issues.
I know that the Minister reassured the Committee in her oral evidence that there would be a full and large publicity campaign around the spring of next year, and I am sure that that timing is welcome on the Government Benches. However, uncertainties remain about the exact timetable and all the processes that need to be put in place, not only by the Government but by many of the other stakeholders. The other organisations involved will need to advise their employees or clients about which scheme they will be better off in, how they might prepare for the scheme and when they can expect to receive support. People will need to put in place preparations for going back to work or increasing their hours, or they will need to identify the right child care or put themselves on a waiting list. Families want to plan for all those things.
I understand that the looming legal case is bringing some uncertainty to the exact timetable. However, the new clause is designed to ask the Minister and the Chancellor to publish a more detailed timetable, so that families understand better when they will become eligible and what they will be eligible for. It would allow for some of the necessary systems to be put in place, such as for advertising and communications, and for all the other stakeholders involved to have that information. If the Minister takes the opportunity to do that now, I will consider in the context of her reply whether to press the new clause.
Priti Patel: New clause 7 requires the Government to publish precise details of the roll-out of the scheme within three months of Royal Assent. I know that we have discussed many aspects of the roll-out and the scheme design before, but for the benefit of the Committee I re-emphasise that we have had much consultation and have been engaged with stakeholders in the development of the overall scheme. The hon. Lady is well aware of the wide range of work that has been under way on the detailed design and implementation of child care accounts. HMRC is working closely with NS&I and the Government Digital Service to design the scheme and accounts so that they have all the necessary infrastructure and capacity to operate the numbers that people want in good time.
Throughout the Committee, I have been clear that we want to roll the scheme out to parents and childcare providers as soon as possible. We will do that in a way that allows us to learn and build from the early phases of the roll-out as more and more parents want to access the scheme. I am sure that all members of the Committee will recognise that the best approach to that is through the engagement, consultation and discussions to which I have referred consistently. We will announce the precise roll-out in good time for parents to factor the scheme
I hope that I have reiterated many of the points that I have previously made to the Committee about the work that is taking place. We have been clear about our commitment to roll out the scheme as soon as possible. A great deal of work is already under way on designing the scheme, and we are working on the communication avenues with stakeholders and parents. On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause.
Catherine McKinnell: On a point of order, Mrs Main. May I put on the record the Opposition’s thanks for the excellent chairing of this Committee by you and by Mr Sheridan? We also thank the Officials of the House and the Clerks who have steered us through the Committee incredibly efficiently. I put it on record that it is because we have three female Front Benchers—and a female Chair, indeed.
There is a level of cross-party agreement on the importance of the issues at hand. There have been some points that we have had to seek clarification on and some issues that we have had to raise, and I am sure that many of those issues will be revisited on Report.
I also want to put on record my thanks to Back Benchers, particularly from the Opposition, who have brought forward important issues for debate in Committee. I particularly thank the Minister for her responsive approach to the issues and concerns that have been put forward. She has taken swift action, with the help of her officials, to respond to many of the debates. As a result, it has been a constructive process.
Priti Patel: Further to that point of order, Mrs Main. I also thank you and Mr Sheridan for chairing our Committee, and I thank all Committee members for their co-operation and good dialogue throughout our sessions. I thank the Clerks and the Officials of the House, and obviously my officials, for all their support. I also thank everybody who came to give evidence. They helped to inform the debate and, importantly, helped with the probing and discussion throughout the Committee stage. I thank all colleagues who have participated and helped to make this such an efficient and effective discussion.
Sammy Wilson: Further to that point of order, Mrs Main. I want to reiterate what has already been said. I thank you for your chairmanship of the Committee, and I thank all others who have served the Committee during its deliberations on the Bill.