Yesterday the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) published statistics for the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) 2012 scheme (i.e. the current scheme), for the period August 2013 (essentially when the scheme really started) to November 2015. Note that these are ‘experimental statistics’, i.e. statistics that are not finalised and are still undergoing evaluation – quite why we can’t wait until statistics are finalised these days, I don’t know.
As I have explained here previously, the 2012 scheme is the third child support maintenance scheme, following the 2003 scheme, which in turn followed the original 1993 scheme. The 2012 scheme differs from the earlier schemes in that its objective is to support families who are unable to make child maintenance arrangements themselves. In view of this, the DWP is at pains to point out that comparisons should not be made to the previous schemes.
I should point out one other significant way in which the 2012 scheme differs from its predecessors. Unlike the earlier schemes, users of the 2012 scheme are required to pay fees for applying to use the scheme, along with charges for collection and enforcement. This factor needs to be borne in mind when considering any statistics regarding the 2012 scheme.
So, what do the statistics say?
Well, I suppose the first point to make is that the statistics tell us that the number of cases managed by the CMS continues to increase following the introduction of application and collection charging in 2014. The total caseload was 66,500 when application fees were introduced on the 30th of June 2014, and have since risen to 187,200 as at November 2015 (although the figures actually peaked in September 2015, and have decreased since). This sounds like confirmation that people are not put off from using the CMS because they have to pay a fee, but of course the problem with trying to evaluate the figures is that, without being able to compare with the earlier schemes, we have nothing to measure the figures against. Accordingly, I’m going to do what I’ve been told not to, and look at the statistics for the two previous schemes. These show that the total live caseload for those schemes as at August 2013 was about 1,400,000. That figure, I would submit, puts the 2012 caseload figure into some perspective, and makes it seem somewhat less impressive than it may have seemed at first glance.
Before I leave the subject of fees, I should say for the sake of completeness that the statistics tell us that about 30 per cent of applicants are exempt from the payment of an application fee.
Moving on, the statistics also tell us that in the quarter to November 2015, 87 per cent of case groups were contributing towards their current liability, with 88 per cent of cash due being paid (a ‘case group’ is all the cases associated with one paying parent, so including different families of that parent). This sounds quite impressive, particularly the figure for the amount of cash due being paid, although it is slightly less impressive when one sees that the amount of outstanding maintenance arrears accrued under the 2012 scheme as at November 2015 was a worrying £43.5 million. The DWP point out that the arrears figure will grow as the caseload increases, and it is an awful lot less than the arrears under the old schemes (see below), but that still seems like a lot of money from which children are not benefiting.
Which brings me on to the last point that I want to mention from the statistics: the number of children benefiting from maintenance. The statistics tell us that: “the number of children benefiting from maintenance continues to increase and, in the quarter to November 2015, stood at 185,300”. The figure, however, is “calculated from cases in which a payment was received”, and therefore a significant number of those children are not receiving their full entitlement. In addition, of course, there is a large number of children who are receiving nothing at all.
Notwithstanding my comments above, the statistics do seem to indicate that the 2012 scheme is doing a reasonably good job, as far as it goes. The problem, as indicated by the caseload figure for the old schemes mentioned above, is that the 2012 scheme is only dealing with the tip of the child maintenance iceberg. The old schemes were notorious for their inefficiency (witness the £3.9 billion arrears they ran up), but is the new scheme actually doing any better? Cleverly, the Government have ensured that that question can never be answered, as new scheme cannot be compared to the old ones, as explained. In particular, the new system has been designed both to encourage people not to use the CMS and to discourage them from using it, and we will never know how much child maintenance is being paid in relation to those families who have not applied to the CMS, but who would have previously applied under the old schemes to the Child Support Agency.
You can find the statistical release here.