Solicitor Rachel Baul joined Stowe Family Law in 2004, and is a member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel. She specialises in all areas of family law and ancillary relief, and has been commended by a number of the firm’s high profile clients.
I would like to emphasise that every case is different and my responses are not intended as substitutes for tailored legal advice. If there are question marks over your case, you should consult a solicitor. However, I very much hope that my answers may be of benefit to questioners and others.
Question: I have recently received the assessment from the CSA. My son’s father has to pay £5 a week – he has lied about his income, and is self employed. He is actually a very successful TV producer who earns at least £50k a year. What can I do to question this? It’s a disgrace and unjust. It reflects a serious loophole in the system and I want to fight it all the way – not just for my son but for other children and their mums. Any advice would be gratefully received.
Rachel says: If you can demonstrate his income, either through paperwork such as proof of contracts or by his standard of living (this may require a private investigator), you can apply to a CSA team that specialises in working out payment calculations for those whose incomes are not easy to ascertain. Unfortunately, when a person’s income is largely cash or fluctuates heavily, it is always difficult to prove that the actual income is greater than the amount disclosed by that person.
I seem to be having a lot of trouble with the CSA the moment. I had my first call from them on September the 20th. They asked me if I would like to complete the application there and then, or have the forms posted out. I explained I was at work so I would like them posted out to me. When my ex partner left the family home months prior to this conversation, she had her mail redirected to her new home. Unfortunately, a lot of my mail was redirected too so I never got the forms.
I had another call from the CSA on the 13th October. I agreed to complete the application on the phone and was informed that payments would be effective from the 13th October. I was advised by the case worker to put some money aside to cover the next two weekly payments of October. I received several letters confirming that the effective date is the 13th but whilst on the telephone with them today, they said it was their mistake and the effective date is 20th September. They have informed me that they will take 40% of my monthly salary until I catch up.
Rachel says: Whenever an assessment is made, it is backdated to the date of the application. Therefore the non-resident parent may end up paying considerably more than 25 per cent of their net salary.
Payment of arrears is compulsory, but there is one course of action available to you. You can ring the CSA and apply to pay the arrears over a longer period of time. Note that this has to be agreed with them direct. Usually, they seek to recoup arrears within 12 months. However, if the arrears stretch across a period of time that is in excess of 12 months, you may wish to arrange to repay over 2 years or more. See below for more details.
I have recently been contacted by the CSA and asked to pay for my two children. I had been offering my partner 20% of my net salary for weeks but she continued to refuse it because she was convinced that she would get 20% of my gross salary. The CSA have now told me how much I have to pay and they are refusing to take my student loan into consideration. I believe this is unfair because I incurred this debt whilst I was with my partner and after my children were born. Before I graduated, I was unemployed and was earning nothing. Had I not taken the student loan, I would not be in a position to pay the amount that I am able to at the current time.
The family home was signed over to me recently and I will struggle to make the payments and pay – what is in effect – more than 20% of my salary. The response from the CSA was “Tell the student loan body that you can no longer pay them”. My student loan is taken directly from my salary.
Could you please tell me if my student loan should be considered?
Rachel says: I’m afraid that your student loan is not considered when calculating CSA payments. However, you may be eligible for a variation of maintenance (as described above).
Eligibility is centred upon factors that you believe should be taken into account. These can include student loans and/or other deductions at source, or if you are self employed and have lost a contract or source of income since the last tax year.
You can apply for a variation of the maintenance through the CSA by applying with evidence of the factors that you would like to be taken into consideration. Since October 2008 you have been able to enter into a private agreement and opt out of the CSA. The CSA is becoming more flexible – but unfortunately, this is at their discretion and they are not compelled to take these factors into consideration.
When my son was born I had no reason to question whether or not I was the father until some time later when an affair was uncovered. My (now) ex-partner never allowed me to be put on the birth certificate, nor does my son have my last name. He was told not to call me “daddy” and I have no parental rights. My ex says I will only ever get them “over her dead body”. Lastly and this may have just been out of spite when the relationship ended, but she once said to me, “How does it feel to pay for another man’s child?”
I reported this to the CSA whose response was to call my ex and ask her if I am the father. She obviously said I was and in the eyes of the CSA my claim was unfounded.
Now the CSA say I need to apply for a section 20 in court to get a DNA test carried out, but that’s all the information they will give me. Do you have any advice for people in my situation who have signed the form saying they where the father but later have had doubts and would like to clarify the situation?
Rachel says: One particularly tragic circumstance, which has cropped up on the comments section more than once, is when a father accepts the CSA calculation and begins paying out, only to discover at a later date that he may not be the biological father of a child.
When first contacted by the CSA, a non-resident father is offered the opportunity to take a paternity test. The non-resident parent pays for the test and if he is shown not to be the father, he is reimbursed. If the test is refused and a person wishes to contest at a later date, there will be no such reimbursement. When a paternity test is taken at a later date, the parent must apply through the magistrates’ courts for a declaration of non-parentage and to obtain a paternity test from a specialist firm. We are able to assist with this somewhat complex procedure and liaise with the CSA to ensure that matters are resolved.
It is important to note that the CSA does not refund child maintenance that has already been paid prior to contesting parentage.
Also, even if a person is not the biological parent of a child, they are able to apply for contact with the child on the basis that they have been a de facto parent. We can assist a step-parent or equivalent in applying for contact with the children of their ex-spouse or ex-partner.
Will I receive more maintenance if my child is disabled?
Rachel says: No. The CSA uses a flat rate calculator and does not factor in special educational or care needs. We have been asked if, in such circumstances, the court can order a top-up of maintenance. Unfortunately, this is not a case unless the non-resident parent has a net income in excess of £2,000 per week.
However, the resident parent can make an application through the courts in respect of provision of accommodation, capital and school fees where appropriate.
Your site contains a wealth of detailed information, especially your reference to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) and I would be grateful to receive clarification of reported implementation dates for revised legislation detailed hereunder:
• CMEC will operate on the percentage based scheme as seen in CS2 rules but income of the NRP will be taken from the latest available tax information.
• Child maintenance will be calculated on the gross income of the NRP.
• Percentage rates will be set at 12% for one child 16% for two children and 19% for three or more children.
• Increase the capping of income from £2000 pw to £3000 pw
• One year fixed term payment schedules will be imposed, with variations to maintenance payable allowed only if a minimum 25% change of income is reported.
Rachel says: There has been a great deal of interest in what the CSA will charge going forward. Unfortunately, at the time of writing we are still awaiting confirmation from CMEC or the CSA as to what percentage of income will be used to calculate maintenance in the future. We will keep you posted…
Finally, a note on appeals:
I have been charged arrears and the CSA cannot provide a breakdown of these arrears. What can I do? I’m still having to pay, although I know for a fact I do not owe them. This is on top of what I already pay – in total, £320 out of £1000 a month
Rachel says: An appeal must be made within 1 month of the CSA’s decision, if it is received outside of the time limit then the appeal may be disregarded. The CSA produce a leaflet detailing how to appeal and this includes an appeal application form. However, when considering an appeal consider whether you are appealing the calculation or the timeframe over which this has to be paid. A risk of appeal is that the calculation may go up as well as down.
Upon receiving a valid appeal the CSA will contact you to try and resolve matters, if it is not resolved a submission is made by the CSA to the appeals tribunal. This includes all of the information that the CSA used to make their decision and all documents and information provided with the appeal application. This can be a long process and you are required to pay the assessed rate of child maintenance throughout.
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 (via www.nacsa.co.uk): a hardworking organisation that can provide ongoing assistance, advice and support.