Open Letter to Heidi Allen MP and Select Committee for Work and Pensions
Factsheets for members
(Note you have to be a member and logged in to download these):
Members with existing CSA cases may find this Factsheet useful, particularly for the case closure process:
Members with a new Child Maintenance Service case, or are considering using the statutory child maintenance scheme, should see our Factsheet below:
What is child maintenance?
Child maintenance is regular financial support that goes towards a child’s upbringing. It is usually money that the parent without the main day-to-day care of a child pays to the other parent.
All parents who do live with their children for the majority of the time have a legal obligation to contribute to their child’s upbringing financially. This can be done in a number of ways, depending on your family’s circumstances.
Maintenance arrangements can often be a source of conflict between separating parents, and it is advisable to put effective arrangements for this in place as soon as you can. Making child maintenance arrangements can remove a potential barrier to parents establishing a good co-parenting relationship after they have split, and help to improve cooperation between parents.
For the text of the legislation (docs updated Feb 2015) follow this link.
Options Available to Parents
Parents are free to choose the best child maintenance arrangement to suit their family’s needs. These can either be set up privately between the parents (known as ‘family-based arrangements’) or organised through the Child Maintenance Service (known as ‘statutory arrangements’). Depending on a families circumstances some options may be more suitable than others; generally though, a family-based arrangement is the quickest to set up, and offers the greatest flexibility to parents to make arrangements that best suit their particular needs.
A family-based arrangement is simply an agreement between both parents about who will provide what for the child. They don’t just have to be about exchanging money – the paying parent could, for example, agree to provide school uniforms.
Family-based arrangements can be quick and easy to sort out because there are no official rules to follow, and no-one else needs to get involved in a family’s arrangements. They can provide a family with the flexibility they need to adapt arrangements to their particular needs. Research has also shown that parents are twice as likely to be happy with a family-based arrangement as they are with a statutory arrangement.
For more information about family-based arrangements and how you could set your own one up, please click here.
Consent Orders and Minutes of Agreement
In England and Wales, a consent order is an order made by a court that makes an agreement between two parties legally binding. For child maintenance, courts can make a consent order which says that the parent without the main day-to-day care of the child must keep to the child maintenance payments they have agreed, either collaboratively between themselves or through solicitors.
It is usually only the best option if the parents are going to court for other reasons (like arranging a divorce or dividing property or other assets), as putting a consent order in place does involve legal costs.
Minutes of Agreement
In Scotland, parents can register a Minute of Agreement in the Books of Council and Session held by Registers of Scotland. After they’ve made their family-based arrangement - with a solicitor’s help, if needed – parents can make it a contract called a Minute of Agreement. They can then register this for preservation and execution to make it legally binding and enforceable.
It’s important to note that parents cannot set up a statutory child maintenance arrangement within 12 months of setting up a consent order or Minute of Agreement, but they can do so after this period.
Statutory Arrangements (The Child Maintenance Service)
Where parents are unable to make a family-based arrangement work, there are two payment services offered through 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 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 (eg. by deducting child maintenance at source from earnings or bank accounts). The Child Maintenance Service is open to all new applicants and the Child Support Agency has now stopped taking new applications.
The Child Maintenance Service uses the paying parent’s gross annual income, from the latest available tax year, as the starting point to work out child maintenance. In most cases, this information is provided to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by the paying parent, their employer or accountant. This means it can process applications more quickly. It also means the Child Maintenance Service can work out an accurate amount without waiting for the paying parent to provide information.
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.
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.
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.
It is mandatory for parents wishing to apply to the Child Maintenance Service to have a conversation with Child Maintenance Options to discuss their choices and consider alternatives before they can proceed with their application.
This is where the Child Maintenance Service works out the amount of child maintenance a paying parent must pay. Both parents agree between themselves how and when the paying parent will pay the receiving parent direct. The statutory service will not get involved in other areas, like collecting the payments and enforcement, unless a parent asks them to. If a parent wants the Child Maintenance Service to get involved in enforcing payments, then the parent needs to move to a Collect & Pay arrangement.
Direct Pay is often a good option for parents who have trouble agreeing or talking about how much child maintenance payments should be.
Collect & Pay
This is where the Child Maintenance Service works out the amount of child maintenance to be paid, collects payments from the paying parent and passes them on to the receiving parent.
If a parent applies to the Child Support Agency or Child Maintenance Service for this, they will gather information from both parents and use it to work out how much child maintenance the parent without the main day-to-day care of the child will need to pay to the other parent. If payments aren’t made on time, a range of enforcement actions can be taken to collect them.
Fees and charges for use of the Child Maintenance Service were introduced on 11 August 2014 (see below).
The government introduced fees and charges in 2014 for parents who use the Child Maintenance Service.
They want to encourage more parents to work together to arrange child maintenance instead of using the Child Maintenance Service or the courts.
The fees include:
- A £20 application fee for any new applicationto the Child Maintenance Service
- A 20% collection fee for paying parents using the Collect & Pay service, on top of their usual amount
- A 4% collection fee for receiving parents using the Collect & Pay service, deducted from their usual amount
A range of enforcement charges for paying parents who fail to pay their child maintenance in full and on time.
There are no collection fees for parents who work together to agree their own family based arrangement, or use Direct Pay.
The Child Support Agency no longer accepts new applications and will begin to end child maintenance arrangements on its 1993 and 2003 schemes in 2014. If you are affected, you will get a letter up to six months beforehand, giving you a chance to put a new arrangement in place. Parents will be encouraged to think about making their own family-based arrangement, while those who can’t will be able to apply to the Child Maintenance Service.
Parents will be offered help and support throughout this change to help them make the child maintenance arrangement that’s right for them. We expect it to take about three years to contact every parent and end all CSA arrangements.
- Child Maintenance Options – www.cmoptions.org.uk, 0800 988 0988
- www.childsupportanalysis.co.uk Old - but interesting site
- http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2012/10/31/child-support-agency-routinely-breaching-the-human-rights-of-fathers/ Another old post - but still going and worth reading. Is the CMS going the way of CSA?
FNF Action (2018) on Child Maintenance
FNF carried out a survey of over 800 service users in response to the Select Committee Inquiry into Child Maintenance in 2017 and subsequently provided oral evidence to the Committee. The Committee’s report did not pick up on the key points being raised by FNF and further submissions have been made to the new Inquiry into the roll-out of Universal Credit.
Quotations from paying parents can be found in the FNF Submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry into Child Maintenance in November 2016 – see here.
Heidi Allen MP was interviewed along with Michael Lewkowicz from Families Need Fathers about this issue alongside a spokesperson from the single parents’ charity Gingerbread in March 2017 – see here.
On 18th July 2017 Families Need Fathers attended a meeting with Caroline Dinenage MP, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance. On 31st August 2017 Ms Dinenage provided FNF with assurances that that the issues of unaffordable Child Maintenance calculations would be investigated by her department. We have not yet received a response.
Key references are included within our most recent press releases and other links below.
Heidi Allen MP proposed a bill on 28th November 2017 to addressing the issue of wealthy non-resident parents avoiding Child Maintenance. See FNF response here: https://fnf.org.uk/news-events-2/press-releases/150-press-releases-2017-archive/439-press-release-heidi-allen-risks-pushing-nrps-into-poverty
Submissions to the Select Committee by Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at Royal Holloway University of London to demonstrate the problem may be found below along with our previous press release on this issue.
Most recent submissions to the Work and Pensions Select Committee by FNF and Dr Davies: