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DWP announce draconian measures on enforcement of Child Maintenance

12th July 2018 - for immediate release

DWP announce draconian measures on enforcement of Child Maintenance without a proper understanding of the problems

DWP have acknowledge that “issues exist” in the current Child Maintenance formula that they are “considering further”, but have not completed an investigation first

In failing to investigate properly before introducing these measures many paying parents will be put into deep poverty and some will contemplate suicide

The CMS formula itself is primitive and unworkable in many cases. Many parents, mostly dads, feel bullied and are driven out of work and into despair

The Government’s new Child Maintenance and Arrears Strategy published today proposes write off much of the £4bn of Child Maintenance arrears is right, pragmatic and welcomed. The vast majority of such arrears were accumulated over a quarter of a century and are for relatively tiny amounts. Many of those assessed simply did not have the money to pay it at the time. Most cases of arrears have arisen largely because of:

  • Incorrect calculations by the discredited scrapped Child Support Agency (CSA)
  • Fundamental flaws in the calculation making payments unaffordable and discouraging work
  • A failure to address issues around shared parenting arrangements

However, the new compliance measures will create new problems. For example, by taking funds from jointly held accounts of new partners they will take away from one child to give another who may be better off. Indeed, some will decide that getting married or setting up shared household expenses is counter-productive. Similarly, taking away passports from those who might rely on them for their business arrangements will be fraught with difficulties. Making deductions from Job Seekers Allowances, State Pensions and other benefits that are there to protect them will only cause more misery and drive people to foodbanks. It is shameful.

It is helpful that DWP now encourage separated couples to come to private arrangements on child support. Most importantly, however, today’s announcement does not include any plans to address the vital underlying problems of Child Maintenance. These include:

  • Affordability
    • Universal Credit fails to take into account statutory Child Maintenance payments. For paying parents on UC, work does not pay!
    • The income thresholds of £100 and £200 a week above which a % is applied have not been reviewed for inflation since 1998, to reflect paying parents’ essential costs of living.
    • It does not address the unrealistic 25% threshold for variation of income requirement when paying parents’ income drops – causing huge problems for those on low, or variable (eg self-employed) earnings.
    • The 20% surcharge to paying parents in the ‘collect’ system is a tax on the most vulnerable – especially those who do not have the money in the first place.
  • Shared care arrangements
    • The Government say that their strategy is to “continue to encourage collaboration between parents” – That is a bit like encouraging pigs to fly. It is hard to see how that might work in practice. Even when parents share care more-or-less equally, one receives 100% of child related benefits and Child Maintenance on top and the other parent received nothing. The incentive is for one parent to exclude the other from caring for the children. It is a high octane conflict, fuelling a ‘winner takes all’ approach.
    • The single parent charity Gingerbread agreed that there is a problem when they gave oral evidence to the DWP committee, stating that “there should be a look at those shared care rules where at the moment it is just a source of dispute between parents”.
    • The Fatherhood Institute have shown that as many as half of ‘single parents’ as classified by the Government are not single, but sharing care with ex-partners. Arrangements for Child Maintenance must reflect this.

Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of charity Families Need Fathers says “the current Child Maintenance formula does not work. For many it is unaffordable and it harms shared parenting arrangements, fuelling conflict in an environment where separated parents are often already angry with each other. This decision will further inflame the blame game. The Government are aware of the problems, but are choosing to ignore them. Just giving the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) bigger weapons will simply result in more casualties and further diminished collaboration between parents.

Increased ‘compliance’ can only be expected if the rules are affordable and fair. Confiscating passports or pinching funds from a parent’s new partner in order to enforce an unfitting formula is a recipe for further failure.”

Mr Karlin adds “Separated parents must jointly take responsibility for the care and financial provision for their children. However, these new financial powers fan family conflict. The Government give the impression of either not caring or are simply playing a political game to help them to gain support for writing off historic arrears which they cannot hope to recover, without addressing the causes of these arrears – the assessment formula which is simply not fit for purpose.”

Affordability and Self-Employment

The average income of those in self-employment is £12,500 per annum or £240 a week; £228 after deductions.

Someone on such an income with two children would need to pay £45.60 a week Child Maintenance. If they lived in outer London, a single ‘box’ room in a house share would cost them around £100 a week, if they had to travel to work daily their transport costs might be over £40 a week, leaving around £40 a week or £6 a day to live on, buy clothes, pay for visits to children, etc.

Add to this that many of these parents will be part of the ‘gig economy’, on zero hours contracts or receiving irregular income. Is it surprising that many struggle to meet Child Maintenance demands derived from assessments that don’t take into account their essential costs of living? Currently CMS will not take into account requests for re-assessment for variations in income unless they exceed 25%. We propose that this variation threshold should be no more than 7% to 10%.

ENDS

FNF carried out a survey of over 800 service users in response to the Select Committee Inquiry into Child Maintenance last year 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 rollout 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 last year – see here. For comment, further quotations or information please contact: media@fnf.org.uk or call on 0300 0300 110.

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Families Need Fathers has been awarded the Help and Support for Separated Families Kite Mark which is a new UK government accreditation scheme for organisations offering help to separated families.

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