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Are the child maintenance figures as good as they seem?

Last Thursday the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) published “Experimental statistics” relating to “Children Benefiting from an Effective Family-based Maintenance Arrangement Secured After Contacting Child Maintenance Options, GB – as of end of March 2015”. (I will look at what exactly constitutes an “effective family-based arrangement” in just a moment). The statistics proudly proclaim on their front page that “Over the year 2014/15 52,000 children benefited from an effective family-based arrangement, secured after contact with Child Maintenance Options” [their emboldening]. It all sounds so marvellous, indicating the success of the government’s efforts to reform the child support system, but just how impressive are the statistics?

OK, let’s first look at that term “effective family-based arrangements” (which I will now refer to by the DWP’s initialism ‘FBA’). Firstly, an FBA is a child maintenance arrangement which parents have agreed between themselves. The DWP define an ‘effective FBA’ as either:

  • A regular financial arrangement where at least some of the agreed amount is always/usually received on time and the parent considers the arrangement to be working very/fairly well; or
  • An ad hoc arrangement which includes a financial element (or transaction in kind e.g. school uniform) and whether the parent considers the arrangement to be working very/fairly well [I think the word ‘whether’ here should probably read ‘where’].

Now, we have of course been here before, and I (and others) was severely critical of the idea that a maintenance arrangement where only some of the agreed amount was paid should be deemed ‘effective’. The DWP seem to have responded to the criticism by adding the caveat that the parent with care (‘PWC’ – i.e. the recipient of the maintenance) should consider that the arrangement was working very, or at least fairly, well. Whilst this may be an improvement, I am still concerned that it is implicitly considered okay if the non-resident parent (‘NRP’ – i.e. the payer of the maintenance) doesn’t fulfil their obligations. There is also the issue of determining whether the PWC is happy with the arrangement – I may be missing something, but as far as I can see the DWP does not explain this in the notes that come with the statistics. I assume that the PWC is asked – the statistics are based upon a survey of a sample of users of Child Maintenance Options (‘CM Options’), but obviously some may feel pressured by the NRP into saying that they are happy not receiving the full entitlement, when they are not.

And so to the statistics themselves. What, in particular, does that 52,000 figure mean? I think the best way to measure it is shown in the table contained in the statistics giving details of the numbers of all child maintenance arrangement types, including effective FBAs, arrangements through the Child Support Agency/Child Maintenance Service, arrangements through the courts and, most tellingly, non-effective FBAs.

The table tells us that effective FBAs constitute just 20 per cent of all arrangement types, 50 per cent are through the CSA/CMS, 6 per cent are non-effective FBAs and in 23 per cent of cases there is no arrangement at all. Now, it doesn’t seem to me that 20 per cent is a particularly impressive figure, particularly in a system where FBAs are loudly touted as the best way to sort out your child maintenance arrangements. Still in half of all cases the PWC has to go to the CMS to sort out their arrangement, and in nearly a third of cases there is no or no effective arrangement.

Then there is the six per cent figure for non-effective FBAs. This means that even when you set the bar low as to what is an effective FBA, in nearly a quarter of the cases where CM Options is used the FBA is a failure. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the system.

The other main finding of the statistics is that CM Options has “maintained a steady performance despite a significant increase to the volume of customers accessing the service”. Looking at the graph for the number of children benefiting from an effective family-based arrangement secured though contact with CM Options since 2010, that would seem to be the case, although I did notice that the graph for 2014/15 does seem to have flattened during the year, suggesting that the number of people using the service may now have peaked.

To conclude, it does appear that the latest incarnation of the child support/maintenance system is rather more efficient than previous incarnations (not that that is saying much), but it has certainly not solved all of the problems, and we must be very wary of government attempts to persuade us that it is better than it actually is.

The full statistics are available here.

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  1. JamesB says:

    You are bang out of order (again) here John.

    Arguing for unnecessary interference in the family, as you do here, is what has created the disintegration of the family and the associated societal, immigration, poverty, economic issues.

    About now is where I would normally start insulting you and calling you names so I will leave it there.

  2. Yvie says:

    I am inclined to agree with JamesB that John should butt out of matters he knows very little about and which do not concern him or the State. The CSA is a blunt instrument with no conception or understanding of the contribution a ‘non-resident’ parent could be making, particularly when shared care is in operation, in addition to the child maintenance contributions paid to the mother. The new child maintenance options seems structured for some flexibility and will therefore suit the majority of parents, although as always some parents may lose out. It costs fathers who share care of their children almost as much as it costs mothers, in as much as they also provide a home for the children, they also feed and clothe them, and they also provide all necessities when the children reside with them, and they can then pay as much as 25% of their wages on top of that to the mother. The father could be a single father on low pay with one wage coming in, but that cuts no ice with the CSA, as fairness to both parents is the least of their concerns. Single mothers do get help in the form of child benefits and child credits provided by the State, in contrast to single fathers with shared care who get no help whatsoever. Many fathers find themselves homeless following divorce and unable to re-house themselves. As someone who was a Family Lawyer, John should be aware then when marriages break down, two homes have to be funded from the same income(s). The majority of fathers are more than willing to pay towards the upkeep of their children, but it is a lot harder for fathers on low incomes to pay 20% of their wages than it is for high earners to pay 20% of their salaries, as the well-payed are left with quite a lot more disposable income than the low paid after child maintenance has been paid. Perhaps the State has now started to realise that displaced fathers have the right to live as well.

  3. Yvie says:

    Sorry about the spelling mistake well-payed. I thought it looked odd, but I was too carried away with my post for it to register properly.

  4. Luke says:

    This is what you said John and frankly I had to read it twice to believe my own eyes:
    “The DWP seem to have responded to the criticism by adding the caveat that the parent with care (‘PWC’ – i.e. the recipient of the maintenance) should consider that the arrangement was working very, or at least fairly, well. Whilst this may be an improvement, I am still concerned that it is implicitly considered okay if the non-resident parent (‘NRP’ – i.e. the payer of the maintenance) doesn’t fulfil their obligations. ”
    So let me get this straight John, the NRP is paying, and the PWC at a VERY MINIMUM is saying that the arrangement is working “fairly well” – so both sides seem pretty happy – but not John, oh no, John wants to get in there with some more fee paying litigation on the matter (because that is what it may well come down to). If both sides are happy what the freaking h*ll has it got to do with you ?
    Your response John is typical of the patronising view so many people in the legal profession take …

    • stitchedup says:

      Ditto Luke. Everybody knows that the standard child maintenance rates are not workable in all cases and are often disproportionate in one way or another. If both parties are happy with the current arrangements what concern is it of john or indeed the courts.

  5. JamesB says:

    The rates should be about half of what they are now. If we are doing statistics, then the system in Denmark has the highest satisfaction of any child maintenance system worldwide, by both parents. Essentially a 100% satisfaction rating. The rates in Denmark are less than half of what they are here.

    So, we come to the point about whether society should pay. Well, I rather think they should. If the alternative is mass immigration, we need to pay for an ageing population for the children who will be supporting us as we get older.

    What really gets my goat is it is always people who don’t pay child maintenance who shout loudest about other people paying. I have been paying at government rates for over eleven years now with about seven to go and it is completely unfair and demoralising and I resent the government and society for every penny. My ex who takes the money has a big house from her and her new husband both selling their homes (one of which was mine) and nice incomes etc i.e the life I would have had had I said yes to her all the time and I am left fighting a seemingly endless battle with rats and trying to maintain an old place in a not so nice area etc. Then having John being an arse calling me names for moaning about it. Well John perhaps you need to advise if you have children or have been married or have ever paid maintenance.

  6. JamesB says:

    It completely sucks.

  7. JamesB says:

    Also, reducing the rate would be a start also, if not abolishing the CSA / CMEC / CMS scumbags and scumbags who call names like them.

    Glib comments like the first line in the act and by Judges who don’t care don’t help either. The line in question being the first line of the child maintenance act.

    Relationships end responsabilities don’t.

    Also, they should have engaged with fathers in the drawing up of the legislation rather than putting in place laws based on feminist entitlements.

    I mean all this was put in place without even asking nrps what they think about it, completely real bad behaviour that rather than the nonsense you see in the divorce petitions. Perhaps I should stop reading such posts as its like reading Nazi white supremacist websites and misguided inflammatory nonsense. That the government goes along with it shows how bad politicians are. I hope they get better as I don’t want the UK under Sharia law in 100 years time.

  8. JamesB says:

    More like 30 years time the way things are going.

  9. JamesB says:

    Sick of having this s%”t fed to me.

  10. JamesB says:

    The laws in this area are a complete cop out from the real issues passing the buck to others to pay for who are not themselves. They are also ignored by sensible communities including the Islamic community under sharia law and the people who do deals between them, that the law exists in its present form and is best avoided as the people at the CMOptions will advise you to, is bad and needs changing completely or scrapping.

  11. JamesB says:

    Does it matter if the non resident parent are upset with the system? Yes, I rather think it does.

    Is it possible to have a fairer and fair system that parents with care and non resident parents will be happy with? Yes, I rather think it is. Indeed as evidenced by the Danish model described earlier.

    I note the cms / cmec / csa / cmoptions people don’t tend to mention satisfaction rates with the system with non resident parents and their point of view. It seems to be just people telling other people how to run their family, the problem being those doing the shouting have never been in such situations themselves and – the worst of all – did not consult with those who have been before drawing up the legislation.

    Should scrap the system and go back to the courts and how it was before. It is making bad situations worse.

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