Since the Child Support Agency (CSA) was launched in 1993 it has been responsible for collecting millions of pounds worth of child maintenance for separated parents. However, changes are afoot as the gradual roll-out of the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) started on 29 July 2013. The CMS is currently open to new child maintenance applicants with two or more children, and over the course of the next 3 years’ the service will be open to all separated parents. In 2014 all current CSA cases are to be closed and if an agreement cannot be reached about payment, parents will be required to make a fresh application for child maintenance through the CMS. The Government has labelled this as a “fresh start”, however, parents are unlikely to agree with the proposition that the changes are a good thing, particularly if they struggled for years to obtain child maintenance via the CSA and finally achieved a good result.
The other bite is the charges which will be applied for use of the service. There has been much debate about the injustice of charging often struggling parents for a service they previously got for free from the CSA. There is an upfront application fee of £20. The CSA will discuss with both parents whether they can reach an agreement between themselves, called a “family based agreement”. If they can and they agree to pay child maintenance direct, then there will be no further fees payable. For those who struggle to agree and/or obtain payment, it will be necessary to ask the CMS to step in and assist. Asking them to do this or to enforce an existing agreement will have financial consequences for both parents, in the form of ongoing collection charges. The paying parent will pay an additional 20% of the assessed payment to the CMS for collecting the money. The receiving parent will pay 4% of the amount payable each time funds are collected via the CMS.
Some commentators take the view that taking funds from the receiving parent will ultimately be to the child’s detriment, as they will have less financial support in their day-to-day lives. On the flip side for parents struggling with problem payers the new scheme really has teeth. The additional 20% will make a paying parent think twice before failing to agree and/or failing to pay. The Government’s view of the new service is that it will provide a safety net for difficult cases where parents are unable to work things out between themselves. Time will no doubt tell.
If you are confused about your position then you should seek independent legal advice. Our dedicated team at Slater Heelis LLP will be able to assist you.