Enquiry into child maintenance
An enquiry into the Child Maintenance Service was published today by the Work and Pensions Community Child Maintenance Service. The Child Maintenance Service was launched in July 2016 and replaced the old Child Support Agency. CMS supports parents in obtaining child maintenance from the non-resident parent and further enforces child maintenance where necessary.
It was found that in cases of avoidance it is the children who ultimately lose out. The government must ensure that the child maintenance service is working effectively so that it does not continue to let children down.
The committee made a series of recommendations as follows:
1. Case histories of prolonged underpayment of child maintenance should be transferred automatically from the Child Support Agency to the Child Maintenance Service and should be permitted to opt to be placed immediately in the collect and pay scheme on joining the CMS.
2. CMS applicants on means tested benefits for example income support should be exempt from the £20.00 application fee.
3. It was found that charges associated with child maintenance are discouraging some parents who require this service. There should be a review in this regard.
4. It was found that further changes are required to make the system safe and effective for survivors of domestic abuse and their children and that all CMS staff should receive training on domestic abuse.
5. A CMS stakeholder group should be established including parents, charities and advisory organisations. This stakeholder group may recommend improvements.
6. The criteria used for prioritizing the collection of arrears need to be clearly set out.
7. The CMS should clarify its stance on pursuing arrears only cases.
8. The DWP need to set out how it intends to ensure that children from previous relationships and children from new relationships are given fair treatment where CMS intervention is necessary.
9. As parents are unable to go to court to enforce child maintenance payments it is recommended that the CMS presume that enforcement is necessary where a payment has been missed and should proceed with enforcement unless it is clear that there is a valid reason why payment has not been made.
10. The DWP should reinstate provisions for parents to challenge child maintenance awards on the grounds of assets and lifestyle inconsistent with income.
11. There should be an investigation team at HMRC to in tandem with the child maintenance service.
It is clear that there are several teething problems with the Child Maintenance Service and it is not effectively achieving its objective however it is hoped that this enquiry will resolve some of the issues.