The apprenticeship levy starts in April 2017. Once collections start, levy-paying employers will want to know how to access the funds in their digital account – and how to spend them.
I’m product owner for one of the teams building the digital apprenticeship service. We’ve been working out the best way to help employers spend their levy. As product owner, it’s my responsibility to prioritise tasks. I lead a multidisciplinary team to develop the service in line with what users tell us they need.
We want to provide employers with a means to use the funds in their digital account to buy training from the provider of their choice. In order for that to happen, employers need to be able to do the following.
Five steps we’ve identified in user research
- Set up an account: employers want to see the balance of their levy, which means the apprenticeship service has to talk to HMRC. The only way we can do that securely is to ask employers to set up an account. Employers need to enter their Government Gateway credentials, which enables us to find their PAYE scheme details and check exactly how much levy has been paid into the relevant PAYE scheme at HMRC.
- Set up a team: most levy payers are large organisations and they’ll need other people to be able to come in and use the system without having to register separately. This feature enables the account owner to invite in other users - for example, staff from HR or finance departments. We use the gov.uk notify service to send out email invites.
- View an account statement: employers told us they want to see an account statement, similar to a bank statement, to understand how their levy is being spent. Finance users may want to reconcile payments they’ve made to HMRC or apprenticeship managers may want to reconcile payments that have gone out in relation to individual apprentices. This needs to be a multi-purpose statement - showing top-ups, co-investment and the English percentage (for more details on these, see apprenticeship funding from May 2017).
- Add PAYE scheme(s): we’ve learnt that account owners in organisations with complex payroll structures might want to pool all levy funds into a single digital account. This makes it easier for them to manage their apprenticeship programme across the organisation.
- Add organisations: employers that have complex payroll structures, or are part of a connected company, tell us they want to know exactly which bit of their organisation is employing each apprentice. All companies in a group can draw on the same funds, but they’ll need to be added to the account first (our definition of connected companies and charities is based on the definition in the Employment Allowance).
Keeping it flexible
Businesses change all the time and we’re trying to accommodate that. For example, we’ve made sure there’s no limit to the number of team members an employer can register.
Also, we started off with role names for each team member. But employers told us that different organisations use different names for similar roles. And some smaller companies paying the levy may combine two or more roles into one. So, instead of role names we’ve given users ‘privileges’ - different actions they’re allowed to complete.
Employers told us they’d like three privilege levels:
- the basic level enables users to view financial information
- the second level allows users to start and stop apprenticeships, so triggering payments (or cessation of payments) to training providers
- the highest level allows the account owner to add or remove PAYE schemes and members
Registration opens soon
From January 2017, selected levy-paying employers will be able to set up an account, set up a team, add organisations and add PAYE schemes. We’ll release further functions in the months running up to the start of levy collections.
Non-levy paying employers will continue to manage their apprenticeships through training providers until at least 2018.
In the meantime, all employers can estimate apprenticeship funding, find a training provider and recruit apprentices through our existing live services. For more information on getting an apprentice, go to the National Apprenticeship Service or call 0800 015 0600.