‘Hundreds of millions of owed child maintenance is failing to be collected’

Gingerbread says that government is failing its obligation to families


Hundreds of millions of pounds of child maintenance arrears owed to children are failing to be collected by the government – with new debts piling up in the new system worth an average of £668 per family – according to a new report published by Gingerbread, the charity working with single parent families.

Missing Maintenance finds that, in total, almost £4bn of unpaid maintenance arrears has accumulated over the 23-year lifespan of the Child Support Agency (CSA), which is in the process of being shut down and replaced by its successor, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). Yet the government estimates that only around 12 per cent of this amount is ever likely to be recovered.

Key facts:

  • A total of £3,708m in child maintenance arrears is outstanding within CSA
  • More than £739m in CSA arrears is currently owed to parents
  • Less than half of eligible families receive child maintenance
  • An estimated 70 per cent of closed CSA cases are expected to have outstanding arrears
  • £52.5m is owed under the Child Maintenance Service
  • In 2014/15, the CMS collected just 53 per cent of maintenance charged via its collection service.

The mounting costs mean that, according to government figures recently published, the average CSA maintenance debt owed to more than a million families is £2,067. The CSA reported that total outstanding maintenance arrears at the end of March 2016 were £3,708 million.

At the same time, Gingerbread says, evidence suggests that decreasing effort is being put by the government into collecting more than £700m of arrears on existing cases.

Meanwhile, within the new CMS, a new system of incentives and penalties was intended to prevent arrears arising in the first place. Yet, after almost two-and-a-half-years of full operation, £52.5m has accumulated in CMS maintenance arrears, with almost half of all non-resident parents in the system having some child maintenance debt. And these figures will increase as cases are gradually transferred across from the old system.

Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:

"Britain's child maintenance system is contributing to a culture where too many parents think it's optional, rather than obligatory, to pay their child's maintenance.

"The accumulated level of CSA arrears is staggering and completely unacceptable. With analysis showing that one-in-five families are lifted out of poverty by child maintenance payments, this is vital money that parents, and their children can't do without.

"And with the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculating that poverty rates for single parent families will double by 2020; more than ever that child maintenance owed for children needs to be collected by the government.

"Yet worryingly, it remains unclear what will happen to money still owed for children once the CSA closes for good. The government is keen to move on and have a fresh start. But there should be no fresh start for those who still owe child maintenance for children today."

Ms Weir added:

"The government cannot walk away from its obligation to collect the millions that are owed to Britain's 400,000 families with outstanding maintenance claims. The CMS is in danger of repeating the mistakes of the past unless it sends a clear signal that non-payment will not be tolerated and child maintenance debts must be paid.

"That's why we're calling on the government to allocate some of the millions of pounds of fee income it is now making from charging parents to use the CMS into child maintenance debt collection work. We want an intensive push on child maintenance debt collection in the next few years, and a clear message that that non-payment of parents' legal obligations to maintain their children will not be tolerated."

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