This week has seen the biggest overhaul to child maintenance since its implementation in 1993. The Government has introduced a new system of administering child maintenance through The Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which has replaced The Child Support Agency (CSA). The new system has three core functions:
- To promote the financial responsibility parents have for their children.
- Providing information and support about the different child maintenance options available to parents; and
- Providing an efficient statutory maintenance service with effective enforcement powers.
One million existing CSA cases will be closed and replaced by the CMS and thousands of letters are being sent out to parents this week advising them as such. Under the new scheme, parents are faced with a £20 application fee to simply access the CMS in order to obtain a maintenance calculation. Parents will then be expected to come up with their own private arrangements for child maintenance without using the new service. If the CMS has to intervene to collect maintenance from the other parent then the receiving parent will be liable for a 4% collection charge and the parent responsible for making the payment will be charged an additional 20% on top of the child maintenance.
Steve Webb, the Work and Pensions Minister, explains that these reforms are intended to ‘empower parents to take control of their own lives and come to their own family-based arrangements to support their children. This approach is in line with the recent reforms to Family Procedure as parents are encouraged to resolve disputes relating to children outside of Court, in a collaborative manner, with the focus on Mediation and the implementation of Parenting Plans. This approach is thought to put children at the heart of the matter as it will encourage parents to take ‘financial responsibility for their children more seriously.
The new system under the CMS is being met with much criticism from the single parent charity, Gingerbread. The Chief Executive, Fiona Weir, said she was ‘concerned’ that many parents won’t be able to agree private child maintenance arrangements without Government involvement. She fears that bringing in charges ‘may deter some parents from making new child maintenance agreements or pressure single parents into unstable arrangements’ with the ultimate risk being that children will ‘lose out on vital support.’
These reforms follow the changes to the method of calculating child maintenance in July 2013 which is now based on gross income of the non-resident parent (the “gross income regime“). It remains to be seen if the majority of separated couples will be able to work together to agree on child maintenance without the assistance of the CMS. What is clear is that ‘parents must agree or face a fee’.
More information about child maintenance can be found here.