A post by Rachel Baul of Stowe Family Law.
Many lawyers are sceptical that C-MEC can provide effective solutions to the CSA’s shortcomings.
Further to my last guest post, which answered some common questions about the CSA, here are ten things that you should know about the changes currently in hand.
The CSA is currently undergoing huge revisions. Later this year it will be phased out and replaced by C-MEC (Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission). All cases should have been transferred to C-MEC by the end of 2011. C-MEC will become fully operational from 2013-2014.
C-MEC aims to simplify and streamline assessments, and improve the collection process. A number of changes are planned, and he most significant of these are as follows:
- The way that maintenance is calculated is set to change. As of 27 October 2008, parents can choose to opt out of the CSA by reaching agreement between themselves. The CSA has set up a team to assist parents in coming to a written agreement. Please note that this agreement is not legally binding. If it fails, parties will have to apply to the CSA for an enforceable agreement. This new option will apply both to new cases, and to existing cases and arrangements.
- It will no longer be compulsory for a parent on benefits to apply to the CSA.
- A parent in receipt of benefits will be able to retain a greater amount of the child maintenance paid through the CSA: £20 per week instead of £10. However the Child Maintenance Bonus for parents in receipt of maintenance returning to work will end from 26 November 2008.
- From April 2010 money parents receive in child maintenance payments will not be taken into account when calculating that parent’s out-of-work benefits or Housing and Council Tax benefits.
- C-MEC will differ from the CSA in that it will use gross income rather than net income (“take-home pay|) to determine CSA liability. The details have yet to be confirmed, but the change could mean there will no longer be an allowance made for large pension contributions – which were previously deducted from the “net” calculation. The formula for maintenance is expected to change from net to gross in 2011.
- The flat rate of maintenance will increase for those earning less than £200 net per week, from £5 per week to £7.
- C-MEC will have greater powers of enforcement. These will include deducting child maintenance directly from the non-resident parent’s bank accounts, and -confiscating passports, curfews and powers to negotiate repayment, or to reclaim payment from the estate of a deceased parent. C-MEC also will have greater powers to enforce its decisions without the need to apply to court.
- The rules governing the payment of maintenance arrears are to be changed. They will affect the processes and procedures that are followed when the agency seeks to enforce the payment of maintenance, and the changes are intended to increase effectiveness and efficiency. Again, the details have yet to be confirmed.
- A change to enforcement will mean that in a large percentage of cases, C-MEC will no longer need to apply to the court to take enforcement action against a non-resident parent who refuses to pay. The new procedure is more streamlined, and purely administrative.
- Many lawyers – myself included – are sceptical that C-MEC can provide effective solutions to the CSA’s many shortcomings. To date there is a lack of clarity in exactly what formula will be used to calculate maintenance and how, if at all C-MEC will be more efficient that the CSA. It has been reported that in order to make the necessary savings and increase effectiveness up to 43% of the current case load will have to be scrapped. There is also controversy about a proposed scheme to “name and shame” parents who do not pay maintenance. It has been viewed by many parents’ rights groups as a mere continuation of a flawed system.
Note: This blog receives lots of queries related to the Child Support Agency (CSA). Unfortunately, because of the complex and labyrinthine nature of CSA processes and rules, such questions often call for lengthy and long-winded answers. For this reason, it is difficult to answer such queries on an individual basis.
If you are seeking advice about a situation that involves the CSA, I recommend that you contact the National Association for Child Support Action: a hardworking organisation that can provide ongoing assistance, advice and support.