‘Agree on child maintenance or face fees’ government tells parents


In June 2014 more than 50,000 parents in the UK were sent a letter by the government informing them that if they cannot come to an ‘amicable’ private agreement about child maintenance payments, they will be charged a £20 fee for using the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

This charge came into force on 30 June 2014.

In addition, the CMS will charge the paying partner an additional 20% on top of the maintenance payment, and the partner who receives the payment will have to pay an ongoing 4% in order to collect it.

Why make changes to the CSA?

The government believes the new CMS is essential as the current system, the Child Support Agency (CSA), currently costs the taxpayer £74 million a year to run in operating costs alone.

However, charities are warning that by forcing parents to negotiate their own agreements and charging them fees if they fail to do, vulnerable parents are at a real risk of missing out on essential child maintenance.

Why was the CSA set up?

The CSA was set up in the early 1990s to organise and chase child maintenance payments. A parent can request the service to become involved if they have not been able to reach an agreement with their child’s other parent about child maintenance payments.

The CSA then opens a case and takes over responsibility for ensuring that child maintenance is paid to the parent who has day-to-day care of the child.

A government spokesperson said that this system has taken “responsibility away from parents” and encourages “conflict and hostility at huge expense to the taxpayer".

What could be the issues with the new CMS?

For single parents who have not been able to reach an agreement on child maintenance, despite a real effort to do so, the CSA has always been there as a safety net.

It is questionable whether a financial penalty will encourage parents to reach a private arrangement when they have already had to resort to using the CSA.

And even if a private arrangement is reached, there is no guarantee that it will result in a regular and reliable income for the children.

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the single-parent charity Gingerbread, said “While many parents are able to agree private child maintenance arrangements, for many other parents, this just isn't possible without government help.

"We're very concerned that closing CSA cases and bringing in charges may deter some parents from making new child maintenance agreements or pressure single parents into unstable arrangements, and children will lose out on vital support."

If you have questions, or are facing difficulties with child support and think you might need help from a solicitor or mediator, call us and we will be able to help you.

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