Abolition of the Child Support Agency – a fresh start or same horse, different name?

17 Jun 2013

The Government is reforming the child maintenance system (again!).  It is proposed that the reforms put better support in place for separated parents to collaborate on issues which arise upon separation and encourage them to make family based child maintenance arrangements.

Sounds like an ideal solution – following separation agree between you the level of child support.  Hey presto!

Child maintenance is paid by the non resident parent to assist with the child or children’s day to day living costs.  To work effectively it must be regular.

Where parents fail to agree levels of financial support between themselves, it can result in the child or children not getting the best start in life.  Children risk missing out on extra curricular activities that usually cost money to participate in.  The resident parent often can not afford the additional expense and may even be struggling to make ends meet with ordinary day to day costs such as food and utilities.

Reaching an agreement on the level of financial support to be provided can go a long way to promoting amicable relations between the parents enabling them to effectively parent together going forward.

What happens to those parents where agreement simply isn’t possible and can not be reached between them?

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is being introduced to replace the Child Support Agency (CSA) and the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC).

The CMS will carry out child maintenance calculations based on the paying parent’s gross annual income from the last tax year.  Usually this information is provided by the parent, their employer or accountant.  Each year the CMS will review the paying parent’s income, benefit status and other circumstances.  This annual review will be automatic.

What happens if non resident parents don’t work?

Paying parents on low incomes or benefits will continue to pay a flat rate but the amount will increase from £5 to £10 with new applications to the CMS. 

What happens in a situation where care of the child(ren) is shared between both parents?

Unlike in the CSA, parents who share day to day care exactly equally are not required to pay maintenance to each other, if they have a CMS case.  Both parents have to show evidence of equal care.

How effective will the new CSM be?

One of the biggest criticisms of both the CSA and the CMEC was the comparison to the toothless tiger.  The CMS has the power to take action again a non paying parent within 72 hours of payment being missed.  Contact is made with the non paying parent to seek continuing payment to avoid arrear accruing.

If non payment continues the CMS can:

  • Take the money direct from earnings;
  • Take money from their bank or building society account;
  • Take action through the Court.
  • The CMS can ask the Court to:
  • Instruct a bailiff to recover the money;
  • Sell a (non) paying parent’s property;
  • Send a (non) paying parent to prison.

If Court action is necessary, the (non) paying parent may have to pay their own costs, the costs of the CMS as well as the child maintenance owed.

Can cases move from the CSA to the CMS?

Only new applicants for child support, who have four or more children with the same non resident parent will be able to enter the new scheme at the current time.  Possibly towards the end of 2013 the criteria will be relaxed to families where there are two children.

A new applicant for child support, at the current time, who has less than 4 children with the same non resident parent will apply the calculation that has been in place since 2003 i.e. 15%, 20% or 25%.

Only once the CMS is up, and working well, will the process of closing all existing CSA cases begin.

Are the any negatives to the new CSM?

A fee will be levied for an application to the CMS.  The proposal is £20.  Parents aged 18 or under and victims of domestic violence will be exempt.

The fees are intended to encourage parents to think about reaching an agreement between themselves rather than simply defaulting to the CMS.

The non resident parent should be aware that the age limit has also increased to 20 providing the child remains eligible for child benefit.  This applies to all, not just those on the new scheme.

Watch this space.