New laws set to protect CMS users from abusive ex-partners

New laws protecting parents who use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) from abusive ex-partners are due to be introduced following an independent review.

Survivors of domestic abuse will be given the choice to allow the CMS to collect and make payments on their behalf – without the consent of an abusive ex-partner.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say this will prevent perpetrators from using child maintenance as a form of ongoing financial abuse and control and mean survivors will not have to have contact with their ex-partner if there is evidence of domestic violence.

The CMS will also have new powers to report suspected cases of financial coercion to the Crown Prosecution Service to help bring abusers to justice. One-to-one support for survivors will be piloted and domestic abuse training for staff improved.

These changes come after the DWP commissioned Dr Samantha Callan, a leading expert on domestic abuse, in the autumn of 2021 to review CMS support for parents who had experienced domestic abuse in setting up a child maintenance arrangement. This followed the tragic death of Emma Day, who was murdered by her ex-partner, Mark Morris.

Minister for Work and Pensions Viscount Younger of Leckie said:

“Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime and we are doing everything in our power to support survivors to make child maintenance claims safely and without fear.

We have strengthened the ways in which the Child Maintenance Service can support survivors in making a maintenance claim safely. I am grateful to Dr Samantha Callan for recognising this and for her vital work which will protect more parents from abuse, bring more perpetrators to justice and help keep families safe.”

Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression Mims Davies, DWP’s Lead for Women, said:

“Any form of domestic abuse and coercive control is unacceptable and illegal but very sadly can be found in most communities and we need to help people speak out and get the assistance they need. Here at DWP we are committed to doing all we can to provide vital support to those affected.

Our improvements to the Child Maintenance Service will mean no one will be prevented from making a claim because of domestic abuse and financial control, and will run alongside our wider support for DWP claimants experiencing abuse or who are in vulnerable situations to disclose this and be helped to move forward in safety.”

Dr Samantha Callan said:

“As well as violence, there is now legal recognition that domestic abuse includes financial and other forms of coercive control which can continue to play out – or be initiated – after parents separate. My review highlights the pressing need for the Child Maintenance Service to help protect its clients from all forms of abuse and be aware that these can be perpetrated by the receiving as well as the paying parent and I am pleased the Government is acting on my recommendations.”

However, Victoria Benson, CEO of Gingerbread, pointed out the shortcomings she sees with the government’s action:

“It’s extremely disappointing that there is no firm commitment to exempt survivors of abuse from ongoing charges levied by using the Collect and Pay system. It’s completely unjust that any receiving parent has 4% of their child’s maintenance taken from them because they are forced to rely on the CMS to collect payment on their behalf – either because of financial abuse or to keep themselves safe. We urge the CMS to scrap these unfair fees.

We know that survivors of abuse have been discouraged from using the CMS as it can expose them to their abuser. This must change. We need to see a system that ensures children receive money they are owed from non-resident parents while the CMS genuinely protects those who have lived with domestic abuse or violence.

The CMS must use its powers to shield children from poverty and ensure they receive money that is due to them – even when one of their parents refuses to pay to support them. This government must make the CMS effective, otherwise it will continue to allow economic abuse and coercive control through enabling persistent non-payment. This ultimately hurts not only single parents but also their children.”

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