Child maintenance update

For what seems like an age, the child support regime has been going through changes, with different organisations involved. First the much maligned Child Support Agency, then the now-defunct Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, then back to the Child Support Agency and now we have the new body known as the Child Maintenance Service.

In addition to changing organisations, there has been a gradual shift in the way maintenance is to be calculated. Plus there is now an emphasis from the Government on getting couples to sort it out themselves and not trouble the Commission/Agency/Service with their problems in getting maintenance from their former partner or spouse.

We thought it timely to try to bring together the various changes to the system into a blog in order to try to give you a picture of where we are with it all.

With effect from November last year, the Child Support Agency was closed to new business and is not taking on new cases. However, it is continuing to deal with existing ones, so if you are paying or receiving child maintenance via them, that will continue.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission no longer exists having been axed back in 2012. Its functions reverted to the CSA at that point.

The organisation now dealing with all new cases is the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). Like the CSA it is a Government body, and has largely the same functions. Information, which is rather basic, about it can be found on the Government’s website here.

New applications for child maintenance are now to be made to the CMS. There are proposals to charge users for the service, which have caused disquiet among the profession and campaign groups such as Gingerbread, the charity representing single parents – indeed there was a debate in the House of Lords about it last week. It is intended that there will be a £20 upfront application fee (payable by the parent with care of the children who is applying for maintenance) as well as a deduction of 4% of the child maintenance from the recipient, and a 20% charge on top of the maintenance for the payer. [Update 2.6.14: these charges are to be introduced ‘later in the year’.]

It seems the intention behind these charges is to encourage parents to sort out maintenance themselves rather than go through the statutory collection service, and to cover some of the costs of running the service. But for people who cannot agree, or where there is reluctance to pay the right amount or anything at all, sorting it out yourselves is simply not an option. Generally people do not go through the CSA (or CMS) by choice, rather because there are difficulties with child maintenance. In these circumstances there is logic in the argument that families are being unfairly penalised, and a valid concern that children will lose out as a result.

The charges are not in force at the moment, and there is a debate going on amongst politicians about the right approach. We await the latest instalment in this long running saga with interest.

In an attempt to help parents who want to sort out child maintenance themselves the DWP funds the website Child Maintenance Options, which is impartial, and contains a lot of helpful information about calculating and arranging child maintenance within the family – what it terms a family-based arrangement. The website is well worth a look if you need some free advice about maintenance payments.

In addition to changing the organisation responsible, there has been a gradual move to a new method of calculating the appropriate rate of maintenance. At first the new method was only applied to families with larger numbers of children, but now it is being applied to all new claims. It uses the paying parent’s gross income, rather than net income as was the case previously. It is payable for children under 16, or aged between 16 and 20 and still in full time education. It is calculated as follows:

For gross income of up to £800 per week, child support is payable at the rate of 12% for one child; 16% for two children; and 19% for three or more children.

For gross income of £800 to £3,000 per week, child support is payable at the rate of 9% for one child; 12% for two children; and 15% for three or more children.

Parents earning less than £7 per week (or in prison, or who are students) pay nothing. Those earning £7-£100 or who are receiving certain state benefits pay a flat rate of £7 per week, and there is a reduced rate for those earning between £100 and £200.

Deductions can be made to take account of other children who live in the paying parent’s household at the rate of 11% for one child; 14% for two children; and 16% for three or more children.

Further deductions can be made to reflect the number of nights the child for whom maintenance is paid stays with the paying parent. This follows the old system, so if the child stays on average one night per week there will be a 1/7th reduction, two nights leads to a 2/7th reduction and so on.

This is the method to use for calculating child maintenance for families who are newly separated. As a first port of call the Child Maintenance Options website is a very useful tool, but if there is anything we can help with, please give us a call on 01223 443333 to fix a time for a chat.

 

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