The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released a new guide to forthcoming changes in the child maintenance system.
A spokeswoman for the department said:
“In 2014, the government will introduce charging for parents using the new Child Maintenance Service to encourage parents to consider working together when creating their child maintenance arrangements. However, there are options available for parents to avoid the charges….parents will be able to have the necessary information and support to make these alternative choices.”
The guide outlines the difference between voluntary ‘family based arrangements’, in which former couples reach an agreement amongst themselves, and statutory child maintenance, a government-enforced system for former couples unable to reach an agreement. Collection charges are for planned for the latter – four per cent for the parent receiving the money and 20 per cent for the paying parent. However, these charges have not yet become law.
The new DWP guide lists a number of online resources to help parents reach voluntary family based arrangements:
“Child Maintenance Options has a range of tools to help you make a family-based child maintenance arrangement including:
- a family-based arrangement form to keep a record of what you have agreed,
- a discussion guide with tips and guidance to help you talk to the other parent,
- an online calculator based on the same rules that the Child Maintenance Service uses to work out child maintenance that can give you an idea of the amount that you could expect to pay or receive, and
- inspiration and advice from other separated parents and people we have helped.”
Child Maintenance Options is, the government states, “a free and impartial service that provides information, tools and support to help separating and separated parents make informed choices about child maintenance arrangements.”
Statutory child maintenance will be managed via the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS will calculate the amount due and in the first instance, the paying parent will be asked to pay the money directly to the parent looking after the children – a ‘direct pay’ arrangement.
If they fail to pay in full or on time, the CMS can transfer the case to a ‘collect & pay’ arrangement, in which the money is collected directly from the paying parent and passed to the recipient. The charges will only apply to collect & pay arrangements.
On the subject of collection fees, the guide say the government wants “to encourage more parents to work together to arrange child maintenance instead of using the Child Maintenance Service or the courts.”
A £20 application fee will also be payable for every new arrangement.
Meanwhile the Child Support Agency (CSA) has begun the process of closure. It no longer accepts new applications and will begin to close existing cases during 2014, a process which is expected to take approximately three years. Parents with existing CSA arrangements will receive a letter up to six months before the closure, setting out options for transferring to a new maintenance arrangement. Support will available to transferring parents.