Child maintenance payments

Child maintenance: £4 billion nationwide in arrears

Across the country, there are single parents not receiving child maintenance payments which they are entitled to. £4 billion is owed in child maintenance nationwide. Campaigners and MPs say the current system in place is not fit for purpose. Single parents’ charity Gingerbread have launched a campaign Maintenance Matters calling for a fairer charging system, and zero tolerance on non-payment of child maintenance. They say the current service is “simply not working”, puts domestic violence survivors at risk and is not pursuing those who do not pay. They also criticise the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for actively pushing parents to family-based arrangements, which in many cases is not achievable.

But what is a family based arrangement? What are the alternatives? How is child maintenance decided?

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is a type of financial support to help with the upbringing of a child. It usually involves regular payments to the parent who the child stays with the majority of the time, from the other parent.

Circumstances which are assessed to decide the amount of maintenance include

  • The financial situation of each parent (eg salary and assets)
  • Needs of the children
  • Custody arrangements of the parents

If possible, parents will be encouraged to come to a decision between themselves. This is known as a ‘family-based arrangement’. If this is not possible the Child Maintenance Service will calculate, collect and distribute payments.

Family-based arrangements vs Child Maintenance Service

If two parents cannot agree then the CMS will step in. However, the CMS charge various fees and these can be higher if they have to collect and distribute payments. These include a £20 application fee and 4% collection charge. It is cheaper and more efficient can come to their own arrangements, however, these will not be legally binding.

To estimate the amount of child maintenance required under the rules used by the CMS you can use this calculator provided by the government.

What are Gingerbread campaigning to change?

Gingerbread’s Maintenance Matters campaign calls for

A fairer charging system

  • Single parents on low incomes shouldn’t have to pay the £20 application fee
  • The 4% collection charge should be scrapped
  • Domestic abuse survivors should be given an option to be fast-tracked to ‘Collect & Pay and to be exempt from collection charge

Zero tolerance on non-payment

  • The CMS must ensure maintenance is paid in full and on time, and take prompt enforcement action to deter non-payment
  • The government cannot walk away from the task of collecting unpaid maintenance debts from CSA and CMS cases
  • Avoidance of maintenance should be treated in the same way as tax avoidance. The government should work with HMRC to close loopholes that allow parents to avoid payments or to pay less than they should.

For more information on child maintenance, family-based arrangements and the CMS read Child maintenance, or if you wish to discuss any of these issues with a legal professional Ask a lawyer.

Camilla Johnson

Camilla Johnson is the digital acquisition specialist for Rocket Lawyer UK. She has a law degree from Keele University, a post graduate diploma in professional legal practice and a diploma in digital marketing.