Almost 10,000 people in January signed onto a government saving scheme offering up to £1,200 in free money, but three million could still be missing out.
There were 9,650 people who opened a ‘Help to Save’ account two months ago according to the latest figures from HMRC, bringing the total number of accounts opened since its launch in September 2018 to 90,750.
That was triple the number of people who opened an account in December.
More people are taking advantage of a Government scheme that helps top up your savings – but still far fewer than are eligible for it
The scheme is intended to help those on lower incomes build a ‘rainy day’ fund – and the Government tops up every £1 deposited by an extra 50p.
Savers can deposit a maximum £50 a month into their accounts, working out at £2,400 over a four-year period.
However, while the total value of deposits in the scheme increased by £2.35million in January to a total of £13.3million, more than 26,000 people who have opened accounts have not made a deposit.
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The take up rate appears low given how the scheme is open to those entitled to Working Tax Credits or those claiming Universal Credit with a household income of £542.88 or more a month.
An estimated 3.5million people in the UK are on some form of Working Tax Credits, meaning just 2.6 per cent of those people opened an account.
In better news for the Government and the taxman, which oversees the policy, 88 per cent of those who have opened an account and put money in have deposited the maximum monthly sum of £50, with the average monthly deposit £47.
HMRC pointed to research it had carried out with users of the scheme that found ‘participants were largely positive about the scheme and the online account’, and that it was easier than they expected to sign up.
The scheme was first announced in March 2016 by David Cameron, but not trialled until two years later, and not rolled out fully until September last year – 16,000 signed up in the first month, which dropped to 3,200 in December.
The cost of ‘Help to Save’ was estimated to be around £70million in 2020-21, rising to £85million in 2022-23.
In order to take advantage of the top-up, you need a current account with a bank or building society.
You receive two separate bonuses, one after the first two years and then the second after four years, with the account being closed after that.
Both bonuses would be 50 per cent of the highest balance you’d saved, but if your highest balance did not increase after the first bonus you would not earn a final bonus.
Phil Andrew, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, previously told This is Money: ‘We know that having £1,000 in rainy day savings virtually halves the risk of falling into problem debt, so helping lower income working households to build savings should be an important policy goal.
‘We campaigned for “Help to Save” and it is a good scheme. Yet it will only bring benefits if people actually use it.
‘The Government’s impact assessment suggested only one in seven of those eligible are likely to use Help to Save in its first two to three years of operation.
‘It’s vital for the government to make a real effort to promote the scheme if it is to have the desired result, and for all of us who work with eligible households to support that effort.’
A spokesperson for HMRC said: ‘The number of account holders and those making deposits is increasing all the time, and we expect this to continue.
‘Independent research has shown that Help to Save is effective in encouraging people to save, and has made saving seem achievable, affordable and worthwhile.
‘However, we recognise that saving with Help to Save might not be appropriate for all of the eligible population at any one time.’
You can find out more details about the scheme and apply for it on the HMRC website.