More than 1,250 organisations in the UK have introduced Home Computing Initiative (HCI) schemes in the two years since the government launched the programme.
Research by the HCI Alliance, which comprises Intel, BT and Microsoft, also showed that 75% of employees taking up HCI computers are lower rate tax-payers – a sign that the schemes are contributing to the government’s objective of bridging the UK’s digital divide.
HCI schemes, which are made possible by the government’s tax exemption on loaned computers, allow employers to loan computing equipment to their staff for personal use at home as a tax-free benefit.
Five million employees have now been offered the opportunity of acquiring a home computer through an HCI scheme, an increase of 39% on 2005.
Many larger businesses led the way in implementing HCI schemes, but the research suggests that growing numbers of small- and medium-sized businesses are now following suit, and realising the benefits that HCI schemes can bring their employees.
David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the HCI is no longer the preserve of larger organisations. “There are now many HCI providers with web-based implementation models that make the scheme accessible to organisations of all sizes – bringing a valuable employee benefit that increases skills and improves the bottom line to more and more businesses,” he said.
Southampton Container Terminals, the UK’s second largest container terminal, introduced an HCI scheme last year. Employee Chris Brennan, a crane operator, jumped at the chance of getting a home computer. “I don’t use a PC in my job and my IT skills and computer literacy were really quite poor,” he said.
“Having a computer not only helps me to buy online and save money, but I now type letters, surf the internet, send e-mails and store digital photographs. And my employer has benefited too as I volunteered to put together the company’s annual shift rota – a task that would have taken hours to do by hand. My home computer saves me money, helps me in my job and has given me interests I never had before.”
Peter Wilkinson, learning and development director at Royal Mail. said the group’s HCI programme has been “tremendously successful”. “So much so that we believe there would be an outcry from our employees if we thought about stopping it,” he said.
The TUC said its experience was when a business implements an HCI scheme demand for learning services and training by employees rises significantly within organisations.
“HCI schemes work because they help those who would not otherwise prioritise getting a computer to get one. They then seek the right training and education, and make the most of their opportunities,” general secretary Brendan Barber said.
“We have supported Home Computing Initiatives since the beginning, and have now run the scheme three times for our own TUC staff,” he said.