Child maintenance system under scrutiny

Family Law|July 28th 2016

One would have hoped that, 25 years since its inception, the child support/maintenance system would at last have evolved into something that worked smoothly and did not require constant monitoring. Sadly, the history of the system has shown it staggering from one crisis to another, despite the almost continual tinkering by successive governments, desperate to make it work. Consequentially, it has been necessary to keep the system under almost constant scrutiny, checking to see whether its various parts are working as intended (usually not).

Now the system is coming under scrutiny from not one but two sources: the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Both are of course looking primarily at the working of the latest incarnation of the child maintenance system, with the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which replaced the Child Support Agency, administering the current 2012 child maintenance scheme.

To briefly recap for the uninitiated, the 2012 scheme differs from previous schemes in a number of ways. In particular, the scheme only directly deals with cases in which parents cannot agree child maintenance arrangements, it uses the non-resident’s gross income figure (usually obtained from HM Revenue and Customs) to calculate the amount of child maintenance and, last but not least, it requires the payment of fees, for applying to the CMS, for asking the CMS to collect the maintenance and for requesting the CMS to take enforcement action if the maintenance is not paid.

The Work and Pensions Committee has recently launched an inquiry into the CMS and its effectiveness in ensuring regular payments for children, and will consider recommendations to improve the service overall. The reasons for the inquiry have been set out by the Committee’s Chair, Frank Field MP, and other members of the Committee. Frank Field points out that “The current maintenance system appears to be failing parents in receiving regular payments, demonstrated through the level of outstanding of arrears, which stands at £4 billion.”

Committee member Heidi Allen MP said:

“…a group of my constituents drew to my attention concerns with receiving regular payments. In such cases, the Child Maintenance Service have a range of options for taking enforcement action, from contacting non-paying parents to legal enforcement, but the time to get results can be very lengthy. The fact that some cases rely on legal enforcement suggests that the system is not fully effective in ensuring regular and timely payments. Our inquiry plans to look at weaknesses in the old CSA system, particularly around self-employed parents, and assess whether the new CMS can deliver an improved outcome for parents and children.”

And Committee member Steve McCabe MP described how he was really concerned about the recent report from single parent charity Gingerbread, which revealed that there is millions of pounds missing in child maintenance payments, which he said “is unlikely ever to be recovered as a result of the introduction of the Child Maintenance Service.”

The inquiry is to be extremely wide-ranging. The Committee is inviting submissions on points including how well the CMS is performing, whether levels of child maintenance are set correctly, how effective enforcement action is, what will happen to all of the arrears owed, and even whether there is any international evidence on ways of ensuring parents regularly contribute to their children’s maintenance payments. If you wish to make a written submission you can do so here. Be quick, though – the deadline for making submissions is Monday 5 September.

The aim of the DWP is much more focussed. It is conducting a ‘30 month review’ on the impact of the child maintenance charges mentioned above, as part of its Child Maintenance Reforms Evaluation Strategy. The review is required to take place by December 2016 (although is likely to be published in early 2017), and was a response to the considerable disquiet among peers and MPs in 2012 about charging parents, particularly parents with care. The DWP has recently invited written views/evidence on the impact of charges from external groups, covering the following matters:

What is the impact of:

  • The application fee on the applicant?
  • The on-going charges on the paying parent?
  • The on-going charges on the receiving parent?

And:

How well is Direct Pay [whereby the non-resident parent pays the maintenance direct to the parent with care] working (awareness, how it is working in practice etc):

  • How is it affecting victims of domestic violence?
  • What is the impact of direct pay on the receiving parent?
  • What is the impact of direct pay on paying parent?

Photo by Richard Perry via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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Comments(5)

  1. spinner says:

    If the CMS has the NRP’s tax record and they have the percentage they are meant to pay then if their lifestyle is inconsistent then the NRP may well be evading tax which either the CMS or the PWC can report to HMRC and it’s up to HMRC to investigate not the CMS. If they are not paying what they have been assessed to pay either deduct at source or take the NRP to court as in any debt and seize other assets.
    With all of this though the state is not your parent people should be sorting this out themselves and if that’s not possible in extreme situations such as genuine domestic violence then provide help.

  2. Andy says:

    What more enforcement tactics can be imposed..I do like the small comment about how is it effecting the Paying Parent..errrrrr lets see.YOUR BROKE.funny that!!!!
    Oh well, MP’s better turn up in chambers to claim the daily allowance of £300 quid..

    In reality just explain how the receiving parent who cannot be arsed to get a job can milk the system when hard working and tax paying Non resident parent pays a hefty price and the CMS say share the costs, both parents shares costs who thought that one up…

    and the application by the parent with care is complaining about paying the £20 quid.suppose the CMS will demand the £20 quid off the NRP NEXT..motion passed!!!!
    Idiots.

  3. Yvie says:

    Whilst no doubt there are fathers who wish to evade their child maintenance payments, things have moved on since the days of the breadwinner father moving on and leaving his wife destitute with their children. The reality of today is often of a mother who wants to move on from her marriage with someone else.

    The husband is then ejected by one means or another and the wife settles down with her new partner and the children. The husband then has to find new accommodation with all the daily essentials that go with it.. If that isn’t enough he may find himself going through the family courts to try and keep contact with his own children. I don’t need to post on here as to the cost of this. Then on top a this comes the CSA letter with payments and more than likely arrears due by the time the father is contacted. Sometimes the wife and her new partner between them can earn three or four times as much as the displaced dad, yet sympathy is usually directed towards mum ‘trying to bring up her children on her own’. No-one suggests that fathers should not support their children, but it needs to be acknowledged by those who condemn ‘absent fathers’, that they are not always absent by choice and that they need to keep a roof over their heads in order to maintain contact with their children. In such cases the CSA threatening to remove driving licences, prison sentence, and bailiffs collecting anything that can be removed, is not likely to be of help to father, mother, or the children.

  4. Henry Smart says:

    The enforcement part is the bit which needs to be looked at, while there are deadbeat dad’s out there who will do the upmost not to be caught, the majority of fathers who have had dealings with the CSA, that have paid on time and never missed a payment until the child becomes an adult are receiving letters 5 sometimes 10 years later after finishing their payment schedule that they have been paying the wrong amount and now have to pay £14000 in seven days or have a liability order enforced on them. The liability order is a rubber stamping exercise and the father or the judge can’t question the figure. There s is no legal redress with the CSA, and as such no lawyer wants to take them on as they know that legislation has been poorly meshed together and is stacked in favour of the CSA.

  5. Andy says:

    Typical government tax payers money wasting…it just makes you sick of the small minded idiots that cause the issues in the first place..I see how the organisation,Gingerbread bleeting yet again on how the mother as parent is hard done by..lets see how the organisation and its top members who quite frankly ain’t worth a toss earn as board members of this so called organisation..how much is the salary again and if they were dealing with the CMS how quick they would try to dodge payments.

    Typical government can’t seem to do anything right on the back of the failed CSA..still one good thing if you don’t pay your arrears build up..So Bailiffs call to seize your goods,if you have any and if you open the door to them your stuffed..
    What joker said we will take your driving license off you..blimey this government could not even get people with bent driving licenses sorted let alone proper ones…
    In reality the enforcement actions are very weak as all agencies of the same type but dodge the loopholes and you will see how crap the system is…
    What actually is presented to the government in CMS audit to what actually is being done are one big difference..looks good in a audit of success..how wrong they are…

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