The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) puts survivors of domestic abuse at risk, two charities have claimed.
Launched in 2012, the CMS was designed to replace the Child Support Agency. The idea is for separated parents to pay child maintenance to each other directly, rather having to go through a government agency. The CMS will only get involved if payments are regularly missed. When this happens, the service takes a four per cent collection charge from the parent who receives the money and 20 per cent from the party who provides it.
However, single parent charity Gingerbread and domestic violence victim support group Women’s Aid claim this system has a serious flaw. As parents are encouraged to deal with each other directly, those who came from abusive relationships could be at risk of financial and emotional abuse from their former partners. This can include sending less money than their former partner needs or making threats.
This week, the two charities claimed they have dealt with people who are afraid to set up direct payments by themselves in case their former abuser is able to get hold of their personal details such as their address. The CMS has suggested that former victims set up ‘non-geographic’ bank accounts but even this presents problems. One parent told Gingerbread that even an account that doesn’t identify their location would still reveal their new name while another claimed their bank could not set up such an account.
Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said that while child maintenance was “crucial” for single parent families, it was “clear that for the many survivors of domestic abuse who will be turning for the service for help, the CMS is not fit for purpose”.
Meanwhile Women’s Aid Chief Executive Polly Neate called child maintenance “vital for enabling survivors of domestic abuse to separate from their abuser” but warned that it was “often used by perpetrators as form of post-separation abuse and financial coercion”.
The two charities urged the government to provide specialist training for CMS staff on how to recognise survivors of domestic abuse and how to work with them. They suggested former victims should have the option to skip straight to the CMS collection service rather than having to pursue payments themselves. The four per cent charge should be dropped when there has been a history of domestic abuse in the case, the charities insisted, and in such circumstances the 20 per cent charge for paying parties should also be reviewed.