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Child Maintenance: New Collection Fees and Enforcement Charges

On the 30th of June this year, the Government introduced new application fees and enforcement charges for people wishing to use the Child Maintenance Service’s Collect and Pay system. The new fees came into force on the 11th of August.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) was created in 2012, to take over from the Child Support Agency (CSA), which operated under different rules. There is no law which requires parents to use the Service. Indeed, parents who have separated are positively encouraged to come to their own financial arrangements – know as a family-based agreement. However, where such an agreement is not possible, or where it proves difficult in practice, a parent, guardian or even a child over the age of 12 can apply for the help of the CMS. The CMS offers a wide range of services, such as locating missing parents, but one that is of crucial importance is its Collect and Pay Service. Under that system, the CMS can recover money owed by a parent who has failed to pay maintenance.

The new fees introduce charges which affect both the paying and receiving parent. The receiving parent, who resides with the child, will now be charged 4% of the maintenance they receive under the collect and pay service. In addition, there is also a new charge of £20 to open a Child Maintenance case with the CMS. The paying parent, who is not the primary care-giver, will have 20% added to each maintenance bill collected. It is estimated that the new changes will affect around 120,000 parents initially. The numbers are set to rise, however, as the government closes cases under the CSA, transferring them to the CMS.

Steve Webb, minister for the Department of Work and Pensions, explained that the changes would encourage parents to come to private arrangements for child maintenance. He indicated that this was important, not only because the CMS is an expensive service which is subsidised heavily by taxpayers, but also because it encouraged a collaborative approach to maintenance which is in the interests of all involved. However, the proposals have come under fire from various organisations working with single parents. Resolution, an organisation which provides family law advice, has argued that the changes would hit the most vulnerable families the hardest. Not only did they punish receiving parents, who often have no option other than to use the CMS, but the penalties paying parents were also disproportionate, in light of the difficulties that such persons often face financially. The organisation suggested that the effect of the changes would be to discourage parents from the using the CMS, even where they were in need of its services, and are left struggling without maintenance. The single-parent charity, Gingerbread, also criticised the changes, saying that in essence it was taking money from children.

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