The Government’s aim is that improved help and support to parents will help more parents work out child maintenance themselves without needing to involve the state. However, the Government recognises that separated parents cannot always work things out and there are some occasions when it is not appropriate for them to try. This is why the Government wants to provide an effective statutory child maintenance service as a fall back.
What is the child maintenance service?
The Child Maintenance Service is the new statutory child maintenance service. It works out how much, and when, child maintenance should be paid on behalf of some separated parents in England, Wales and Scotland. It also has the capability, where necessary, to collect child maintenance from one parent and pay it out to the other (e.g. by deducting child maintenance at source from earnings or bank accounts).
It supports parents who can’t make a family-based arrangement. The aim is to get more money to more children, by helping parents who live apart to contribute towards their children’s upkeep.
The CSA no longer takes on new cases and is being phased out completely
You cannot apply to the Child Maintenance Service until you have spoken to Child Maintenance Options, and is designed to be the last port of call if amicable arrangements cannot be made.
What can the Child Maintenance Service do?
They can :
try to find the other parent if you don’t know where they live, to sort out child maintenance
sort out disagreements about parentage
work out how much child maintenance should be paid
arrange for the ‘paying’ parent to pay child maintenance – the parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child
pass payments on to the ‘receiving’ parent – the parent who has main day-to-day care of the child
look at the payments again when changes in parents’ circumstances are reported
review the payment amount every year
take action if payments aren’t made
Will they review payments once agreed?
Every year the Child Maintenance Service will review the paying parent’s income, benefit status and other circumstances. This will help to work out if the amount of child maintenance they pay for the next 12 months should stay the same, or if it should go up or down. This is called the Annual Review, and will be done automatically. It will ensure that maintenance calculations remain fair and accurate.
Increased flat rate of child maintenance.
Parents who are on low incomes or on benefits pay a flat rate of child maintenance. To reflect the increased costs of bringing up a child, this flat rate has been increased from £5 to £7 for parents using the Child Maintenance Service.
This increase in the flat rate will increase the amount of money flowing to children and reflects more closely the maintenance which non-resident parents in work, but not on flat rate, are required to pay.
Shared care for the children.
Unlike in the Child Support Agency, parents who share the day-to-day care of their children exactly equally are not required to pay maintenance to each other if they have a Child Maintenance Service case. Both parents are required to show evidence that the day-to-day care is shared exactly equally.
An assumption of shared care equivalent to one night per week may be made where parents agree in principle that there is a shared care arrangement but cannot agree on the number of nights and neither parent is able to provide evidence supporting their claim.
What happens if Child Maintenance isn’t paid?
The Child Maintenance Service has a firm approach to non-payment.
If a paying parent does not pay the right amount of child maintenance on time, then the Child Maintenance Service can, and will, take appropriate action to get the money owed. If a paying parent knows they’re going to be late making a payment or miss a payment, it’s important they tell the Child Maintenance Service straight away so that the situation can be discussed.
The Child Maintenance Service will contact a paying parent to seek continuing payments and so stop arrears building up.
If child maintenance continues not to be paid, there are three things the Child Maintenance Service can do to get unpaid child maintenance from a paying parent:
take the money direct from their earnings;
take the money from their bank or building society account;
or take action through the courts.
If the matter goes to the courts, there are several actions the Child Maintenance Service can take.
For example, it can ask the court to:
instruct bailiffs to recover the money;
sell a paying parent’s property;
or send a paying parent to prison.
If the Child Maintenance Service has to take action through the courts, then the paying parent may have to pay their own legal costs as well as the Child Maintenance Service’s legal costs. This would be in addition to the child maintenance owed.
There is a fee for applying to the Child Maintenance Service, you will be charged £20 for your application. You may be exempt from these charges if the following apply, you are a victim of domestic violence, if you are under 19years of age or if you live in Northern Ireland.
There are also collection fees if parents use the Child Maintenance Service to collect and pass on payments (a Collect & Pay arrangement). Collection fees are payable by both parents, including those people who have become clients of the Child Maintenance Service before charging has been introduced. The collection fee is 4% of child maintenance for the receiving parent and for paying parents it is 20% of the agreed child maintenance that they will have to pay on top of the maintenance.
The Government intends that the fees will encourage parents to think about whether they can make a family-based arrangement rather than just default into the Child Maintenance Service or, if they are unable to do that, to consider a Direct Pay arrangement within the Child Maintenance Service.
Changes to Direct Pay.
One of the key changes that has happened under the CMS is, it used to be the case that both parents had to agree to a Direct Pay arrangement (called Maintenance Direct within the Child Support Agency). Now, either parent with a Child Maintenance Service arrangement can request Direct Pay. Parents can avoid collection fees by opting for Direct Pay, but still have to pay the application fee. If payments are not made, the case can be moved to the Collect & Pay service.
The Government has also worked with banks and building societies so that people can get an account that allows them to receive money from the paying parent securely and without having to disclose personal details (e.g. contact numbers or bank account details).
Child Support Agency case closures have started and they continue to be closed. Parents whose cases are being closed have the opportunity of deciding whether to make a family-based arrangement or apply to the Child Maintenance Service. Support will be provided by Child Maintenance Options to help them do this.
Parents will be given six months notice that their case is to close.
This process of case closures is expected to be completed in 2018.
The Government has committed to providing information and guidance to help organisations support people who turn to them for advice.
Updated: September 2017