Co-operating for benefits

The most important aspect of any successful business is its employees, and businesses that have a more engaged and enthusiastic workforce are often those which have initiatives and benefits in place to support their staff both at work and at home.

Introducing a selection of benefits can help boost morale among staff, which can in turn lead to reduced employee turnover. This results in an additional benefit for the business as it reduces recruitment and training costs, and generates an experienced team to work alongside and help develop newcomers joining the business.

A regularly voiced concern from some business owners is they feel their operation is too small to warrant having a benefits package in place, but whether the company is a family-run delivery firm with a few employees or a multinational conglomerate with offices across the globe, the same benefits are available to them regardless of their size.

There are a number of different benefits that employers can offer to their employees to help them both save money and feel happier in their jobs, such as childcare vouchers, family-care advice and legal services. However, what can often hinder take up of the benefits available is lack of awareness among staff that they are in place, what they mean and the cost-savings they generate.

We recognised that, with an increasingly online workforce, the most efficient way to communicate a benefits package and its advantages to employees would be through an online portal, which can be regularly updated. And this is where our new Benefits Plus system comes in.

With an increasingly online workforce, the most efficient way to communicate a benefits package and its advantages to employees is through an online portal

Delivered by Co-operative Flexible Benefits, part of The Midcounties Co-operative, the online software solution enables management teams to share the benefits they offer with their staff, alongside internal news announcements and team updates, details of pension schemes, and simple facilities to record holiday bookings and sickness logs.

The portal can be specially designed to reflect a business’s branding so it is instantly recognisable and relatable to staff, an important aspect to encourage use and to give an identity to the service. The software has been built in such a way that it can be accessed on any type of computer, tablet or mobile device, meaning users can log-in whether they are in the office, on a train or at home with their family, to find out more about the savings they are making.

One benefit that many employees often choose to introduce for their employees is Payroll Giving. This flexible scheme allows anyone who pays UK income tax to give both one-off and regular donations on a tax-free basis to charities and good causes of their choice.

What makes our Co-operative Payroll Giving service a unique addition to a benefits package is that it is free to use for the employer, employee and also the charity. We ensure that the nominated charity receives the entire donation by “ring-fencing” the money, so it is not used as working capital and is passed to the charity within seven days of receipt.

This free service forms part of The Midcounties Co-operative’s core values and social responsibility commitment to support its local communities, and by absorbing all administrative costs associated with the scheme, we ensure the charities receive the maximum benefit of the donations made.

Payroll giving is an important fundraising tool for charities as it generates a regular and reliable income for their activity, and with the tax relief provided through these schemes, it encourages people to make donations when they may otherwise have been reluctant to. By establishing a relationship with employers, charities may also find this results in additional charitable support, perhaps in the form of volunteering hours or wider fundraising initiatives and sponsorship events.

One essential employee benefit that generates emotive debate is childcare vouchers, and particularly discussion around the government’s proposed £750-million Tax-Free Childcare investment. Co-operative Flexible Benefits, a leading childcare voucher provider, is an avid supporter of the proposition, but has strongly recommended changes to the current voucher system to make affordable childcare immediately accessible for working parents, rather than in the government’s 2015 timeframe.

The high cost of childcare is a significant financial challenge for many parents, often preventing women from returning to work. The Tax-Free Childcare scheme will give all parents equal opportunities and a greater chance to achieve their career aspirations while ensuring their young children receive quality childcare.

Working parents benefit the local economy and allow children to enjoy a broader social environment from a young age, which can only lead to the sustainable development of our local communities. It is essential that affordable childcare is delivered to working parents in an efficient and simple manner, and soon.

Co-operative Flexible Benefits is proposing amendments to the current childcare vouchers system so that the salary in-put limit is increased, the scheme becomes available to self-employed parents and it is a mandatory requirement for employers to offer the benefit, so affordable childcare is available to working parents sooner than 2015.

Our childcare vouchers can be used at any one of the Co-operative Childcare’s 51 nurseries located nationwide, where an emphasis is placed on learning through play in a stimulating environment, as well as at any other Ofsted-registered provision. By using our childcare vouchers to pay or part-pay their nursery fees at “our” nurseries, parents will automatically qualify for further discounts on their childcare costs.

As a co-operative, providing support and cost-saving solutions to businesses and their employees is a fundamental part of our core values, and as a large proportion of our profits are ploughed back into our businesses, including Co-operative Flexible Benefits, we are constantly looking to innovate and improve the range of benefits we offer and the delivery tools used to communicate them.

It is important businesses know that, regardless of their size, employee base or the industry they operate in, the benefits packages are simple to introduce, and can go a long way to improving employee retention, morale and engagement.

For more information on the schemes that Co-operative Flexible Benefits offer

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