Children with additional learning needs

Further Powers Given To The Child Maintenance Service

The Child Support Act 1991 made it a requirement that all parents who were liable to pay child support should do so.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) was then introduced in 1993 to calculate and collect child maintenance.  Despite the clear objectives, the CSA was heavily criticised in its operation, with criticisms of failure of management, communication and enforcing maintenance payments, resulting in two reforms in 2003 and 2012.

The 2003 changes introduced a new, easier method of calculating maintenance using a fixed percentage of the non-resident parent’s (NRP) net income, with different percentages per child.  Once again, there were significant failings.  The Independent Case Examiner’s Office (an independent body set up to deal with complaints about the CSA) reporting main failings as delays, errors and that no enforcement action was being taken.  As a result in 2012 there was further reform with the creation of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) that operates under legislation of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

It is a fact that there will always be those who will find loopholes to avoid paying, such as:

  • Using self-employment to create complex financial arrangements, hiding actual earnings
  • Putting a business into another’s name to hide personal wealth or creating a limited company where money would be unavailable.

Though the Government felt this was a ‘small minority’, the Child Support Miscellaneous Amended Regulations 2018 was passed.  This amendment allowed the CMS to include savings, assets and investments in calculation, meaning those that were capital rich but income poor may have to pay higher maintenance due to the value of assets.

This was advantageous to primary care givers who were seeing the NRP hide money away in assets to avoid paying maintenance, so long as they could prove the NRP had assets exceeding the £31,250 threshold the Regulation had set.  The new regulations also allowed the CMS to take money from joint accounts of whom the NRP was named, as well as in extreme cases, remove the passport of a NRP who avoided paying – a rule some find rather draconian and against their human rights.

The charity Gingerbread welcomed the changes as they felt that previously “the CMS has stuck rigidly to a ‘one size fits all’ approach that failed to recognise more complex finances.”  However, the charity also felt that the new powers were still unlikely to be used.

The Government still felt there were still changes that could be made to enable collection of maintenance from people who are avoiding their legal responsibility and to recover part of the £3.8 billion still owed under the CSA.

In July the Child Support Miscellaneous Amended Regulations 2019 was announced, giving the CMS powers to collect a flat rate maintenance from NRPs on Universal Credit and other income related benefits, for both on-going claims and those in arrears for children who are no longer qualifying.  The changes have also allowed the CMS to approach mortgage and pension providers for the information needed to make a claim.

As the amendments to calculate maintenance are relatively recent, only time will tell whether the CMS actually enforces the changes and uses its powers to the fullest, ensuring parent’s meet their legal requirement to provide for their children.

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.