Damning criticism of Child Maintenance Service’s enforcement record

Children | 17 Oct 2019 7

Ever since the child support system was first established nearly thirty years ago its record in recovering money from absent parents has been the subject of considerable (and often heated) discussion. And that discussion continued in a Westminster Hall debate at the beginning of the month (Westminster Hall debates give MPs an opportunity to raise local or national issues and receive a response from a government minister).

Two services

Before I look at the debate, I should explain something, for the benefit of readers who are not au fait with the workings of the Child Maintenance Service. The Child Maintenance Service essentially offers two levels of service to its ‘customers’. The first is the ‘Direct Pay’ service, where the Child Maintenance Service calculates the amount of maintenance to be paid, and the parents arrange the payments between themselves. The second is the ‘Collect & Pay’ service, for parents who can’t arrange payments, or don’t pay what was agreed. As the name suggests, under Collect & Pay the Child Maintenance Service collects and manages the payments between the parents.

OK, on to the debate, which was led by SNP MP Peter Grant. There is an awful lot here, so I can only ‘cherry-pick’ a few points.

Damning

As I mentioned here the other day, Mr Grant opened the debate with the following damning criticism of the Child Maintenance Service’s enforcement record:

“I see too many cases in which it is obvious that a parent is determined to avoid their responsibilities and that they can get away with it—sometimes for years at a time—which is just not good enough. It is far too easy, for example, to hide income from the Child Maintenance Service, which too often leaves it to the resident parent to produce the evidence that their ex-partner is effectively committing fraud. That is bad enough at the best of times, but if the resident parent has been the victim of domestic abuse or financially coercive and controlling behaviour, it is wholly unacceptable to make them responsible for ensuring that the other parent of their children complies with their legal responsibilities.”

SNP MP Martyn Day responded with this:

“Several constituents who are the resident parent have not received any money for years, and a common theme or trend seems to be that the paying parent claims to have given up paid work or become self-employed in order to hide their income. That totally thwarts the whole purpose of the Child Maintenance Service.”

Quite. And DUP MP Jim Shannon said this:

“I have seen parents in my constituency who give their child £10.50 a week, yet they drive a brand-new BMW, have the newest of gear and have that kind of lifestyle.”

Yep, we’ve all seen this sort of thing.

Mr Grant suggests the following answer to the problem:

“Deliberately concealing income from people who you know want only to provide for your children should be a criminal offence. It is not a matter for the civil courts or for civil adjudication. If someone falsifies their tax returns, they go to jail, so if they falsify returns provided to assess their financial liability for their own kids, they should also go to jail.”

Hmm, not sure that criminalising parents is the way to go.

Clearly, many MPs have received complaints by parents caring for children about enforcement problems. This, from Labour MP Stephen Timms, is typical:

“I was looking through my records this afternoon, and I saw that I wrote to the Child Support Agency on behalf of one of my constituents on 30 September 1999. She finally received a first, partial payment on 1 August 2018. It took 19 years.”

To which Mr Grant replied by expressing the wish that he could wait 19 years before paying bills(!).

The Government’s response

OK, I could go on at length with the criticisms. But what did the Government have to say? Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Justin Tomlinson defended the Child Maintenance Service’s record with this:

“On direct payment, there are cases where we have advised what the financial contribution should be, and the parents set out to try and do that without using us. A number of people have highlighted how that can break down. The problem is then that the debts mount up, and the bigger the debts, the bigger the problem it is to get that fixed. So, we have rightly tried to be more proactive. Not only is there the annual review, but we now text the receiving parents proactively to ask whether there are any issues and if there are issues, we ask that they should contact us immediately so we can either escalate ultimately to enforcement or move them on to the click-and-pay service. In the last quarter of last year, 9,000 people moved from direct payments to collect and pay. We are nudging that proactive level of support as quickly as possible.

“The shadow Minister … talked of 33% not being collected on collect and pay. The 67% was the last published figure, in June 2019, which is up from 62% in the previous year, and the improvement has been long-standing. The amount unpaid in June 2019 was £18.5 million, down from £22 million. That is £18.5 million too much, but we are heading in the right direction, through a combination of better training of our frontline staff, so that they can explain the options and potential punishments to both the receiving parent and the paying parent; better enforcement … and the regulations that we passed to strengthen our ability to investigate and enforce.”

Mr Grant, however, had the last word, and it was not pretty:

“A couple of points: first, people do not need a clever accountant to hide their money; they only need an accountant who knows how to set up a private limited company, and it then takes years to find it. Secondly, we do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to find these scams; we only need a Facebook account, and then we can see the luxury yachts, the holidays, the umpteen fancy houses and so on. If somebody on benefits was boasting about their wealth to that extent, the DWP would have them very quickly. That is the speed at which we should be chasing down money from other people as well.”

I think most of us would agree, although whether anything will come of all of this, we will just have to wait and see.

You can read a transcript of the debate here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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Comments(7)

  1. Paul Gibbons says:

    Men continue to have no access to a legal defence.
    You have more powers to dip into men’s bank accounts and exploit men than you do to tackle organised crime or terrorists.
    There is no due process and the people dealing with appeals are the same people running the scam.
    At least criminals get a trial and fair hearing. Father’s in child support disputes get nothing.
    This just wide-open exploitation. A licence for government to pick pockets.
    How you can take part in such a scam and advocate it as justice is beyond a joke.
    None of these men been targeted by CMS can afford the services of solicitors. So question remains. What are you solicitors getting out of supporting this state piracy ? You must be getting a cut somewhere or you would not advocate it ?
    Come on John. Come clean with your old adversary.
    How is this new child support game supporting solicitors ?
    I’m genuinely curious.

    • Sami says:

      CMS are a mafia with the government protection. I call it so because CMS guys know how to rob fathers to make 20% commission for themselves. They are fully aware of ‘divide and rule’ to their own benefit. I would be prepared to fight this scam off even if I have to lose my job or taken to the magistrates. Dismantling this mafia must be the election manifesto in the next general election.

  2. Ian Johnson says:

    This is really interesting! A one sided view of the CMS where the non-resident parent (NRP) is the villain and the resident parent (RP) is all forlorn. There are other sides to this fiasco. As a NRP, I always paid what the agreed amounts were. The issue I have with both the CMS and to a lesser degree, its predecessor the CSA, is the complete biased approach of the departments when dealing with my case. As soon as the resident parent ‘claimed’ that I had not paid the agreed amount, I was set upon by the CMS to prove that I had complied. There was no compunction on behalf of the RP to prove I had not paid, whereas I was made on more than one occasion to provide printed bank statements. The most recent claim was that I had underpaid by over £1000, despite having proof of the agreement and providing statements. I vehemently argued my case for them to provide proof of non-payment, finally having it reduced to £20, which I paid just to get them off my back! I have been subjected to severe mental anguish and stress, because I’m an honest man, and pushed to my absolute limits. The system is biased and rotten and trust me when I say, I fully understand why a NRP could be driven to suicide! As an aside, I also have a stepson whose father hasn’t paid a penny in maintenance for his child, now 22. Where’s the justice?

  3. Paul Gibbons says:

    It’s all one sided. Don’t expect a change pal. They now take their narrative directly from ‘mums net’ and ‘Ginger bread’. There is not a single guy within the judiciary to speak out against such tosh. Not one with the ‘balls’ to go against the feminist fringe.
    They are been well paid somewhere. It’s time this sociopathic nonsense we call a ‘family court’ system. Was torn apart. It’s rotten to the core.
    No response to my line of questioning I note.

  4. Simon Matthews says:

    I am taking the CMS to court for damages as a result of their incompetence. This centres on not taking me off DEO when I was entitled to and not recovering arrears/maintenance when my daughter came to live with me. My ex-wife and I were making direct payments at the time, but I had told them that she had payed only a minute amount compared to what she should have paid. There have been approximately 20 letters un-answered, different advice from different people and to cut a long story short this has lead to me living in poverty, becoming homeless and not being able to have contact with my children. My question is, can I use the human rights act article 8, whereby I have a right to contact my children or a right to a family life? The CMS only allows me to have 60% of my net income, which is a pension so I cannot afford to rent a flat near my children, had to sell my car and I am in debt. I am not claiming sympathy just putting you in the picture.

  5. Pix says:

    CMS is an absolute joke. I was physically, financially, and emotionally abused none stop by my ex when we were together and now, after moving 3.5 hours away from his children, he doesn’t even pay his tiny amount in maintenance and CMS do nothing. This isn’t the first time he hasn’t contributed financially to his children’s lives and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It isn’t down to not being able to afford it, he managed to move right? This is just another way of him thinking he can control our lives and CMS facilitates this by taking no action against him. Joke!

  6. Kelly says:

    Been fighting since 2014 for CMS to look at absent parent’s earnings and not at ‘their so called reported earnings’; finally in December 2019 after over 30 letters and at least double calls (some at extortionate rates at the time) I finally got a decision surmounting to thousands of pounds worth of arrears. The absent parent of course complained and complained some more (despite my only asking for payment for one child at aged 14 years, and never asked for a penny for older child (now 19years)) – CMS told me conflicting advice, warned me against complaining, never called back when they said they would and on lots of occasions promised me funds would be paid then closed the file (at the horror of the supervisor months later). The complaining has given time (as if 6 years wants enough) for the absent parent to delay paying up. Finally in May I received a grand payment of £240 of which I have no idea where the minuscule figure was plucked from, but is quite a short fall of £595 per month quoted in December 2019 and from the shortfall of arrear payments. Said ‘child’ is now19 years and at this rate will have finished Uni before I fear CMS will have done anything about this, which I am told will be written off anyway! Last moan, I have in writing arrears aren’t subject to ‘Direct Pay Fees’ however, in black and white on the pathetic excuse for online CMS account, is the debit amount taken for Direct Payment! Seriously, I am at the end of my tether with this fiasco and fed up of working just to survive. If people can get away with things they will – the organisation allows this and the government couldn’t care a less about the struggling parents and lives of children that could be so much better if they had received something towards enriching their home lives. I am not here to bitch about absent parents or make sweeping statements about gender – the fact remains they are those who will do the right thing and those who won’t but in order for that there has to be a way to do either, and unfortunately the gate has been left open by CMS for those who would just prefer to leave their responsibilities. Its about time something was done about this organisation – I suspect the need is great right now but with public purse tighter than ever the solution I fear is farther away then ever imagined.

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