The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has begun writing to parents who still pay and receive money via the Child Support Agency to highlight the imminent introduction of fees.
The Department expects to send more than 50,000 letters, to parents across England, Scotland and Wales, detailing changes to be introduced later this year. Parents who are unable to reach child maintenance agreements between themselves will be charged fees for the use of CSA successor the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) – 20 per cent of the money due for the paying parent and four per cent for the receiving parent. A £20 registration fee will also be payable, except by victims of domestic violence.
In 2012 the government announced plans to wind up the much criticised CSA. It began to phase in the CMS from the end of that year.
A government spokesman told the BBC that the CSA had used a computer system which was “totally inadequate and notoriously riddled with defects”, contributing to annual running costs of £74 million. In addition, the old CSA system had, they claimed, taken “responsibility away from parents, encouraging conflict and hostility at huge expense to the taxpayer”.
By contrast, the CMS will use data from HM Revenue and Customs and will review the circumstances of the paying parent on an annual basis.
But single parent charity Gingerbread said the introduction of fees was “wrong in principal”, claiming that most single parents only turned to the CSA when they had no other choice.
According to the charity’s chief executive Fiona Weir:
“While many parents are able to agree private child maintenance arrangements, for many other parents, this just isn’t possible without government help. We’re very concerned that closing CSA cases and bringing in charges may deter some parents from making new child maintenance agreements or pressure single parents into unstable arrangements, and children will lose out on vital support.”