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The new Child Maintenance Service

The new Child Maintenance Service
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The Child Support Agency was set up in 1993 to intervene where separated and divorced parents can’t come to a mutual agreement about the financial contributions that should be made by the parent leaving the home. The CSA works out how much maintenance should be paid towards a child’s everyday living costs, and can also collect the payments for resident parent.

Child Support Agency problems

The original organisation was plagued with problems from day one, including insufficient collection expertise, a lack of information about the ability of parents to pay and an IT system which was not fit for purpose. These ongoing problems meant that many payments slipped through the net, accruing at an average rate of £20million per month between 1993 and 2008. This debt has now built up to more than £3.8bn – £1.5bn of which is owed to the Secretary of State and £2.3bn owed to parents responsible for the day-to-day care of the children involved.

The agency has met with much controversy, thousands of complaints and widespread negative publicity as a result of these inadequacies over the years and has undergone a number of reforms since.

2012 reform to Child Maintenance Service

Its most recent reform took place in 2012 with the creation of the new Child Maintenance Service, which administers the 2012 child maintenance scheme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. The Child Maintenance Service will work out, collect and pay child maintenance on behalf of separated parents who can’t come to an agreement themselves.

The Child Support Agency continues to administer the 1993 and 2003 child maintenance schemes on behalf of the DWP, but is set to be gradually phased out over the next few years once the new system has been operational for some time and is working well. With the new Child Maintenance Service, the Government says its chief priority is to make sure that more parents pay the money they owe, not only in full, but also on time.

Steve Webb MP, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, said: “Only by the effective prevention and management of arrears can we get more money flowing to children and avoid increasing debts owed by parents for their children.

“That is why we have created a new, fundamentally different and much more effective approach to child maintenance; one that intervenes early, putting in place support to encourage separated parents to work together and play an active role throughout their children’s lives.

“However, we must also deal with a difficult legacy. A legacy which allowed money owed for children to build-up.”

Old CSA debts will not be written off

But while the past debts will not be written off, the DWP says the main priority will be to keep money flowing to children who will benefit from regular child maintenance payments now. The reforms have first and foremost been designed to encourage parents to work together, with the hope that arrangements can be made without the intervention of a statutory body. But where support is needed, the Child Maintenance Service will aim to provide that help, and take ‘swift and effective action’ against parents who deliberately avoid their responsibilities.

The new Child Maintenance Service

Extra support will be given to separated parents

It is anticipated that fewer parents will need to rely on the CMS because of additional support and measures to try and help them to make their own arrangements in the first instance.

Who can get help from the Child Maintenance Service?

Child maintenance is for children who are either under 16 or under 20 and in full-time education, but not higher than A-Level or equivalent.

The parent who doesn’t have day-to-day care of the child (the paying parent), pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does (the receiving parent). This could be a grandparent or guardian as well as a parent. Currently both the Child Support Agency and the new Child Maintenance Service are dealing with maintenance payments and they will work out how much should be paid. Payments are worked out by varying criteria and rates and depending on the paying parent’s income. The child maintenance calculator on the DWP website can help give you an idea of what the amounts might be.

You will be told which organisation will handle your case when you apply for child maintenance.

You can’t apply though if the receiving parent or child lives outside the UK and the bodies can only help in certain circumstances if the paying parent lives abroad.

To apply to the CSA or CMS you’ll need to supply various details about you and your family, such as National Insurance number and bank account details and information about the child. This will be used to set up and manage payments and, if necessary, to find the paying parent.

Direct payments to the parent with care

The first child maintenance payment is usually made within six weeks of the arrangements being made with the paying parent. Money can be paid directly to the receiving parent, if both parties agree, by direct debit or directly from the paying parent’s earnings. You can, however, come up with your own payment arrangements once the CSA or CMS has worked out the amounts.

Missed payments

When a payment is missed, the service you’re using will contact the parent to find out why they haven’t paid, arrange for them to pay what they owe and warn them about the action that might be taken if they don’t. The money can then be taken directly from their earnings or benefits, from a bank or building society or claimed through court action. The CMS have the power if payments are missed to take legal action, this could result in the involvement of bailiffs, force the sale of property, or even a prison sentence.

 

 

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