The reality of our failing child maintenance system

Family Law|December 12th 2016

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS), like its predecessor the Child Support Agency (CSA), is a regular target for criticism. I myself have been a frequent critic – see, for example, here and here. It is therefore interesting to get another view of the service, this time from the inside. And pretty damning it is too.

The inside view is from an anonymous caseworker at the CMS, published in an article in The Guardian on Saturday. I’m simply going to pick out some quotes from the article and say a few words about them, although they hardly really need any comment.

The article begins with the caseworker reminding us that when the CMS took over the poisoned chalice of running the child support maintenance system from the CSA in June 2014 the £20 charge for making an application to the Service was introduced.  The article continues:

“My job as a caseworker is to help secure financial support for children whose parents have separated. I do my best, but I see hundreds of single-parent families with little to no savings get turned away, unable to access a public service even though they are the ones who need it most…”

And why are they turned away? The caseworker explains:

“Every family is different, but the only difference that the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] is interested in is whether or not they can afford to pay the access fee.”

And there is no flexibility: the caseworker explains that they are often asked by applicants whether the fee can be deducted from the first maintenance payment, or perhaps paid in instalments, but the answer is always ‘no’.

But if that seems callous, the caseworker has something much more damning to say about the attitude of the CMS:

“The turning point for me was when a manager towered over me and instructed me to terminate a call from a mother sobbing her heart out. The mother explained that her family had fallen apart and she had suffered a mental breakdown and had lost her job as a result. She begged me to waive the fee but my manager regarded that as simply “wasting time” while other applicants queued on the switchboard.”

As I said above, some of this really doesn’t need any comment, but I will sum up the very clear mind set of those running the CMS: We don’t care about people – we only care about money.

The caseworker then describes how:

“To this government’s shame, the £20 fee was charged to hundreds of survivors of domestic abuse earlier this year, despite it being explicit policy that they should be exempt.”

Thankfully, this is no longer the case, but it is pointed out that caseworkers do not always get the specialist training they require in working with domestic abuse survivors, or in how to spot the signs of financial coercion.

And finally the caseworker tells us of the “archaic computer system” that the CMS uses, which “has a chronic tendency to crash”. Now, I’ve been following the CSA/CMS since the introduction of the child support system a quarter of a century ago, and pretty well throughout that time there have been complaints that the computer system used is not fit for purpose. It really beggars belief that this is still the case after all those years. The caseworker explains that:

“Caseworkers are told to provide pointless log-off records to explain why they are logged out following system crashes. The irony is that filling out log-off records and being taken off the phones to explain systemic failures only wastes more valuable time that should be spent helping applicants. Every day hundreds of calls go unanswered or are lost partway through. It only adds to the frustration of the parents and staff alike.”

Good grief. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.

A system that fails the very people it is designed to help is, by definition, not fit for purpose. Child maintenance should be a lifeline for families suffering financial hardship, there to ensure that the children can grow up without the sort of deprivations caused by poverty. But those are the very families that can’t afford a £20 fee and who are therefore excluded from the system: “Every day I see parents who qualify for child maintenance get their applications rejected, simply because they are too impoverished to pay the fee” says the caseworker.

It’s all very well those in the cosy world of Westminster saying that money is short and that the fee is needed to pay for the system, but they simply have no appreciation of how difficult it can be for a parent in need to find the sum of £20. It may not seem like much when you regularly spend more than that on one round of drinks at the House of Commons bar, but in the real world it is a lot of money, which is actually needed for such essentials as food and clothes for the children.

And as for archaic computers and telephone calls unanswered or lost, words fail me.

Hopefully, a copy of Saturday’s Guardian may still be laying around in the House of Commons bar, and this article may yet be read by those in government responsible for the child support system. The trouble is, it really doesn’t seem that they care.

The full article can be read here

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Comments(22)

  1. Andy says:

    I lost interest within the first few sentences due to yet again gold digger mothers can’t afford the £20 quid application and yet again we see Gingerbread pushing for this application to be removed…but surprise the 4% rule still stays..for the paying parent..

    Correct me if I am wrong but it is very one sided In the comments made by the so called whistle blower the scenarios and outcomes just to gain 9,16,25% of the fathers salary…
    If they are so poor how come the benefits they can claim is next to a full time salary so the bleeting will go away when child maintenance is imposed then child benefits with working tax credits will be swiftly given via on line application and of course the inaccurate application form filled in to fiddle the system…with the once former marital house gained via courts with Spoucal maintenance..wake up

    Ask any father who is the real loser,the financial loss and reduced to living standards that quite frankly not fit to house a rat…so when comments such as this are not worth the time to read and the media only give a overal story that will sell the paper..Don’t forget from a paying parent that the inaccuracies of the CMS are also noted as incompetent. Case worker, you just try and get any scenes out of one, you ring up..all scripted and general answers and if they don’t know we will ring you back..to date no one ever has to questions raised..
    Such crap bleeted from the so called hard done by mother is just crap…
    And just for good measure the the new car purchased with nice sunny holidays plus the ability to work part time to top up the gravy train benefits is all nice what I mean by part time 33hrs just under the full time allowance of 37hrs when benefits are reduced.

    Recently the poor media of the demands via the CMS in backdated payments sent to the father have been so high they have taken only one way out..suicide….
    Just remember if the government thought of it it will be wrong…but not at there expense…

  2. Andy says:

    Here we go again, The poor old mother who can’t afford the £20 pounds application fee.
    I lost interest of the incompetence and the constructive way that the supportive mr Bolch has started..Could I say that you are in support of Gingerbread and Mums net who are driving for change…

    Let’s look at the demands that these caring support groups want to get the thrown out father of any family normality to pay for all of the life style of the mother who buy the way will get more benefits and state handouts lavishly given if you can can fill in the on line application forms so more cash gains.

    The whistle blower who has given the various scenarios only lead me to believe that gaining secure financial support from the father is a top priority but fails due to incompetence and inaccuracies.

    Ask any paying father and you will get a true picture..so in reality the life of the gold digger mother is short…

  3. spinner says:

    Subtext – “Courts are great, taxpayers give us more money” Time to grow up John and manage change rather than throwing a verbal tantrum every few days.

    • Andy says:

      Spinner.
      You could not make this up if you tried..
      I’m sure this blog on the subject is just a joke to get a lot of comments but I works…
      Makes me sick…just to ask where is the support for fathers in such demands by Women groups but yet father groups that are in the shadows..
      All I want to see is justice and equality..rant over…well,for now…

  4. JamesB says:

    People have already said my views on this in the comments and I agree with them, especially the 4% one.

    I would be more interested in an article around the crisis of feminism, how can we bring the men with us. Something along how Emma Watson said on the subject, that she wishes more straight men were lobbying for feminism. Strange as it seems to entail nailing them to the wall and having their balls chopped off without anaesthetic that they do not. Perhaps feminism should change rather than trying to legislate their way out of a hole and do like Dolly Parton says.

  5. JamesB says:

    Spelling it out for those not knowing what I mean by the last comment. The lyrics to the song “Stand by your man”.

  6. JamesB says:

    My English earlier wasn’t great. I meant that the effects of feminism felt by men are comparable to being nailed to a wall and having your nuts cut off all without anaesthetic.

    That said, the large supply of single man hating women can be a blessing as well as a pain, although I am not sure as I can find them tiresome.

  7. JamesB says:

    Single, man-hating, females that was. Not single men, hating females, I’m not into that.

    Paying someone to tell you they hate you is a bit perverse and Pythonesque though. Like the Ministry of Insults.

    Never get any thanks from my ex for the hundreds of thousands I have paid her, and the child care etc. just abuse.

  8. JamesB says:

    Expecting men to pay to be abused in this way with unenforceable contact orders is pushing it and probably not viable long term as seen by growth of Sharia courts etc. Its contrary to Natural law and as per Jurassic Park, Nature will find a way where something is wrong or getting rid of it.

    Its just a shame if it means the replacement of the West and Christianity and all the good that our relatives have done over the last ferw thousand years to be replaced with laws and cultures and customs from other counties as we don’t know how to resolve feminism and get men and women to live together amicably in a nice way for society. Hope it doesn’t come to that and we can all live together with more peace and love, the CMS CMEC CSA CMoptions doesn’t help though.

  9. JamesB says:

    What to do with the educated liberal elite?

    Well, whatever the UK equivalent of Siberia is I suppose, perhaps camps in the Outer Hebrides for them if they will take them.

  10. JamesB says:

    Educated metropolitan liberal elite that was. The ones who walk into lamp posts and get run over while using their iphones, or think remaining in the EU is a good thing and everyone secretly knows this and people should pay for their children no matter what.

    • Mel Bradshaw says:

      The £20 fee is just the tip of the iceberg. Both parties should pay or no one. Or perhaps split it.
      Currently there is not one bailiff working on behalf of the CMS for anyone, who perhaps like me has been through the mill for the last 17 years, 8 of which have consisted of financial investigations (found guilty of fraud twice). There is no support for my son to make up for the lack of support from his father. As some of the comments have mentioned about the parent with care lifestyle – what has it got to do with you! Pay you dues, it’s your legal obligation. Don’t like it? Tough!

  11. JamesB says:

    Put them on the outer Hebrides with no internet access. Perhaps put the Judges and lawyers there too.

  12. JamesB says:

    4%. Clarification on the 4% point is needed as is an objective example of how the system works.

    If the parents cannot agree a figure then the Government will impose a charge on top of the feminism tax that are the traditional csa/cmec/cmoptions/cms rates. So, for example, if a man separates from the mum and the man tax is £300 per month, then if they can’t agree to do it by direct debit or some other issue or the figure isn’t agreed then he gets another 20% on top of that and the Mum gets 4% less.

    So, he pays an extra £60, £360 to ‘the man’ for being dumped and treated like rubbish and for his kids to have some other guy play father to them and she gets a measly 4% knocked off, £12, to £288.

    The whole thing is as rotten as David Cameron’s new deal from the EU. That’s without discussing how she gets more child benefit, housing benefit, tax credits, preferential housing etc etc to leave the father. Stinks.

  13. Yvie says:

    If the incomes of both parents were taken into account, the system would become a lot fairer, and I would include any benefits and child credits etc into the calculations. For fathers at the lower end of the income scale, starting again from scratch is challenging to say the least. They can quickly find themselves in debt just paying day to day bills. If they try to work some extra overtime to pull themselves up, there is more child maintenance to pay. No-one speaks up for fathers in this position, the emphasis being always on ‘impoverished mothers’. Some impoverished mothers are not doing too badly, many have full time jobs, a new partner in a full time job, child credits, child benefit, plus child maintenance. Dads meanwhile cant afford to take their children out for the day.

  14. Yvie says:

    Taking the income of both parents into account would identify mothers who are indeed impoverished and dependent on child maintenance and would also identify mothers who are financially much better off than the fathers who are paying perhaps more than is fair or affordable.

  15. Yvie says:

    Perhaps Gingerbread and similar organisations who claim to be single parent charities, should pay a bit more attention to the number of men who take their own lives following divorce than to complain continually about monies not being paid to impoverished mothers or them having to pay £20 to register with the CMS. This is a pittance, and of little relevance when compared to the number of fathers who take their own lives. Are there any statistics for mothers committing suicide following divorce. It would be an interesting comparison.

  16. Chris jones says:

    Why can’t both parents wages be taken into account if you have a dad on say 15k and the mother on 20k with a new partner on 30k why should the dad be punished to breaking point when the kids and mother are financially sercue? You also have mums who block access for no reason but still are happy to collect his wages why not introduce a system where as long as dad hasn’t been abusive if he pays then he’s guaranteed to see the children once a week mum stops this without good reason the amount is reduced. This is one of the best countries in the world. Why is it so sexist on this matter?

  17. Yvie says:

    I agree that both incomes should be taken into account. It makes complete sense. Many fathers on their own with only one wage to pay the bills can find it difficult to manage when the mandatory percentage of child maintenance is deducted. The system encourages many women, but not all, to be unfair. Worse when a father is struggling on a low income, is when his ex wife suggests to the children that they get no benefit in seeing dad as he never takes you anywhere.

  18. Vikki cooper says:

    You men are utterly dillusional. Stop complaining about paying for your children, full stop. It does not matter what excuses you come up with, it does not matter what you think is a good excuse..whatsoever, there is NO excuse not to pay child maintanance, none whatsoever, mothers have your children 24/7 and when you aren’t making our lives hell trying to withhold maintanance payments because we don’t do what you say you are moaning about it..seriously have a word with yourselves. If you owe your child’s mother money pay it, cms aren’t strict enough. If it was the government who wanted money back they would get it back or you would be imprisoned. No excuse whatsoever , stop moaning, pay for the child that you created. Mothers are going above and beyond constantly, they have to do absolutely everything, you men have no idea how good you’ve got it, waltzing around acting asthough you are the best fathers in the world, no matter how good or bad a father you are, the mother still does and spends time with theur kids ten times more than you do, that’s the bottom line, there is no argument here.

  19. Lord Voldermort says:

    This system is a throw back too the 40’s an 50’s. Men are no longer bread winners. Women can be the biggest earners. This agency should not be operating with a callous disregard for men. Until they stop treating men like sub humans then it will be doomed to failure.

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