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Damning criticism of Child Maintenance Service’s enforcement record

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.


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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  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.

      • Andrew says:

        You’re not wrong. Abolishing the csa and cms will help take children out of conflict.

        I’ve been a fulltime single father for 13 years. I’ve had nothing but male discrimination systemic bias that has meant we are owed money yet for quirks in the ability of the System I am hounded and pursued for money – imaginary money- based around how child benefit paid to me has been misrepresented in the csa system as to to the mother…. three mp’s and independent case examiner still can’t put this fiasco of financial ruin and aggressive bailiffs. I need to sue them- does this solicitors do that?

  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.

  7. Keith says:

    Dealing with CMS is torture, plain and simple they behave like how you would imagine it would be dealing with the Russian or Chinese state governments, they just bully and threaten, I’ve tried to raise complaints which just go unanswered, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that someone will call me back or will look at my case and they never never do. I honestly can’t imagine a worst run government department. It feels very much like they are anti-men and have tarred all men with the same brush, totally shocking!

  8. T.Holden says:

    I have read and understand the comments how its one sided but my partner pays for his child on time even though he has no contact and its a high amount they request. My Childs father has paid probably £250 in her whole life she is nearly 12, every time CMS find where he is working he quits and goes onto benefits, then when that’s set up he gets employment again. One point he was only being asked to pay £6 a month – this never happened. So I do believe each case is different and not all women should be tarnished as money grabbers and so on. I have at times only asked for dinner money for school or pop heating/electric on so the other parent can’t say that they have paid for me to buy myself a new top or bottle of wine. Something does need to change within the system because it isn’t the same across the board. He has also had nearly 8k worth of arrears written off because they quote ‘cant recoup it’. Last 6 months its back into arrears of nearly 1300. Its a cycle and very frustrating.

  9. Lewis Jones says:

    My Ex wife has had over £33K of maintenance payments from me since 2010 and I have also provided additional payments for holidays, school uniform etc etc. My choice, but I am a financially responsible father. My Ex moved my children to Dorset after her infidelity I may add and I have to do a 160 mile round trip to see my Daughters.

    Now in the last year of my eldest child’s maintenance where we had a private agreement she has decided to go through the CMS service to get even more money. I was even advised on the line that and I quote ” some mums do this as its in the last year and they try to get as much as possible.” The CMS treated me disgracefully so black and white…no special expenses, nothing. I have been on anti depressants for a number of years because of this and unfortunately some women want to fill their pockets rather than what’s right for the child. The whole system is flawed and I wish I could do something.

    I can understand why good Dads, and there are so many out there literally crumple under the stress and strain of this all caused by this dreadful system. I wish I had the strength to fight but there is no hope.

  10. Adrian says:

    You can’t fight a system where everyone hides their names/identity and also hides a real address. That’s how they get away with their fraud and attempted theft of everything you have. The only thing you can do is play them at their own game, disappear. Do exactly as they do to you. Don’t write, call or respond to them. Work under the table and vanish from living history.

  11. Mark says:

    I have just read this article on the CMS and it must be stressed that every situation has its own complications. The problem the CMS face is that it is difficult to give enough analysis time to such complex cases to fully get to the bottom of the underlying causes. I have two children a boy almost turning 19 out of college and a daughter at boarding school. I have a job with a salary of 80K and rent in the south of England and my wife is a director of an international trading company who owns a 3 Million Pound house and real estate in Asia. The daughter attends the most expensive boarding school in the country. I have always paid my child maintenance amount but when furlough occurred i informed the CMS of my change in circumstances. The case officer told me to contact back when i was taken back off furlough to carry on with payments. Due to the furlough salary i had to move from my rental in london back to my home county for a cheaper property. I began earning full salary in december when i was taken off furlough and i found out to my horror that CMS had not only been building up debt on my furlough rate mis payments (which they never informed me about) that they had begun emergency collections from the company i was working with. Recently i found that 44% of my salary was being taken monthly putting me in a dire financial situation not being able to support my wife and child. When talking to the case officer there was no help from him/her and requesting that i had not informed them on my change of address. They had my mobile number, the company could of given them my address or even my ex wife. I really have built up debt without even being aware that i was in the wrong purely because i was told “I did not contact them” when i actually did. It’s worth remembering that not all cases are based on the man deceiving the CMS/Ex Wife of money and there is absolutely NO PROTECTION for the husband to get fair treatment. The case officers not only cant help they simply are following the LAW. I am sure there are many situations where other parents have legitimate stressful stories to tell. Most parents are decent people and we are all suffering for the “Bad Eggs” in the pack.

  12. Good dad says:

    The problem here is that there is NOTHING made to let the parent paying having the right to defend their views.

    I had to go to court to be able to see my daughter. I won a court order with specific days and holidays time. It also says that we have to sort half term time together.

    The problem with that, is that I had my daughter all the entire half terms this year and the previous years because her mom had “stuff to do”.

    Which I’m happy with because I can see my daughter even more.

    But CMS refuses to take that in consideration, because the court order is not specific.

    I always used the child maintenance calculator to calculate each year the right amount of child maintenance.

    I payed all my child maintenance.
    I paid for clothes, half of school fees, and some activities like swimming lessons, etc…

    Now I’m ruined!!! Threated like a criminal! I’m a good dad!
    I’m providing for my child, I’m working hard and have nothing left from now!!!

    My ex has twice my salary, child tax credit, child benefit, and child maintenance.

    In August last Holiday she did a trip in the Alpes of 2 weeks costing at least £3000. I have nothing left!

    For the child maintenance I have my daughter 3 nights a week (167 days).

    I can prove it with all the messages that we exchanged. All tge dates are in those messages. It is said on the court order that the 2 parents has to sort out the half term but CMS refuses to take that into account.

    I never payed my child maintenance late, cover with plenty of clothes, and everything I can! Schools, birthday and everything!

    Now I’m treated like a criminal and I have to pay even more.

    I start to think that it would be better financially for me to quit my job and go on benefit!

    This country, this system are a shamed!!!

    You are killing men and good dad!

  13. Louise says:

    I am a once shared care mother but no still have shared equal parental responsibility of my now near 11 year old daughter. I have a private law CAO to never see or speak to my once share care daughter again. Father wants CM and the Tribunal judge accepted my 930 page court bundle in April whilst he took his time to check the correct law- which we obviously haven’t had as the Cafcass legal aid lawyers- x2 Barristers and one lawyer for 5 years have made thousands out of my daughter and supporting father in the RAF having full custody to line their pockets and his! I have been arrested twice and police interviewed a further x2 times and x2 jury trials cancelled as police sought no permission to discuss a Minor in the crown court! I want to be a mother but I am constantly punished for this and I haven’t seen or spoken to my daughter for nearly 2 years- neither has her 23 year old sister or anyone in maternal family. I refuse to pay child maintenance to support that fraudulent set up and I wrote in my tribunal court statement I would pay £4 more- so £100 pcm cash to dad if I could my daughter for 5 hours once a month on a Saturday in her home town- he refused as he thinks the back pay from the CMS will be greater and he can still control my daughter n use her to goad me to breach my NMO from the family court! I hope my case will go in the crown court for my third jury trial as the crown judges are the top most clever judges and they need to know what happens in the corrupt closed doors of the family court and the nasty CMS set up! The RP is allowed to use our children for financial gain and to destroy us and that hopefully is not the correct law and hopefully the clever crown judge will get to hear about it and I hope all NRP in my situation- NEVER pay child maintenance to support that fraudulent set up! If we want to be parents to pay to see our children- we shouldn’t be punished for it! Hopefully the corrupt system will change but I have been to court 38 times in 6 years and all is getting worse!

  14. A G says:

    One sided report…nothing new…
    What about the NRP who will pay but the standards salary after calculation is expected to live on are just not worth having a job..
    CMS and the bleeding PWC have a lavish life style with generous benefits.
    Plus CMS payment to the PWC , untaxed income.. so being self employed or LTD company is the same…the report stinks…

  15. Matt says:

    Typically rubbish one sided report. This is why it never gets any better. Do you know how many willing to pay parents are overcharged then told any adjustment will take between 3 – 4 month to be considered. The IT systems are broken as with many .gov organisations as the staff are incompetent and would only be able to work in government. They would fail elsewhere, here they can continue there incompetence with impunity –

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