Parents will be forced to pay out additional child maintenance fees under new changes being made to the system this week. The changes will see the Child Support Agency (CSA) being replaced by the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS), and will mean that separated parents on both sides will be liable to pay costs. The Government plans to have all current open CSA cases closed within three years, and to have the CMS system replace it completely, and parents will be charged for the CMS service.
The change has been brought in as a measure that is intended to improve relations between separated parents and to reduce the need for family mediation services. The idea is that it will encourage parents to come to an amicable arrangement in private without having to rely on a service to come to an agreement. This in turn, it is thought, will mean that less pressure will be placed on the Government's resources; the current CSA service currently has close to a million open cases.
The new CMS service will include a £20 application fee for both parents who choose to use the system to calculate child payments, and there are further costs based on non-payments of money. Parents with whom the child lives could lose up to 4% of a payment if the other parent does not pay a maintenance instalment, while the parent who fails to pay could be hit with a charge of an extra 20%. These charges will be taken as the service takes responsibility of collecting monies owed. The additional charges will be paid to the Government as 'collection fees'.
Although some have welcomed the changes, they have also faced fierce criticism from certain quarters, with the single-parent charity Gingerbread being particularly vocal in their opposition. They have called for Lords and MPs to stand against the proposals, suggesting that they could mean children will ultimately be missing out.
Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread said: "The new service should have securing reliable maintenance for children at its core, but instead it will jeopardise existing arrangements and put financial pressure on struggling single-parent families".
She also went on to say that parents who have to pay because of the non-payment from the other party is "wrong", and that they should not lose any of their child maintenance payment simply "because of the other parent's unwillingness to pay".
Weir additionally claimed that the new CMS system will put "barriers" in the way of single parents looking to make effective payment arrangements. She said that 20% of the poorest single-parent families could be better off and removed from poverty if they received regular child maintenance.
Having been originally discussed in Parliament in 2012, the CMS service has invoked a sense of further unease from other quarters, with some people concerned that the charges will deter many parents from using the system, leading to many people abandoning child maintenance money owed to them.
For more information on this topic or if you wish to discuss your circumstances with a solicitor, you can contact the author of this blog, K J Smith Solicitors, who have teams of family solicitors in Reading, London, Windsor and Henley-on-Thames. Call them on 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 020 7070 0330 (Central London), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames).