There are currently an estimated two million single parents in Britain today with 26% of dependent children households being single parent households, according to Gingerbread, an organisation that provides advice and practical support to single parents. Many of these single parent households rely on child maintenance paid by the child’s non-resident parent to survive. With approximately 124,000 applications on a yearly basis, the CSA was a system that allowed parents who could not come to their own arrangement regarding child maintenance to do so via the government agency. The CSA both calculate the amount of child maintenance due and collected, enforced and arranged transfer of the child maintenance. In a previous blog, entitled ‘Changes in Child Maintenance Calculations and how they affect you’, I wrote of the new child maintenance system replacing the CSA: the new scheme being the Child Maintenance Services or CMS. As the new scheme rolls out across the UK a new plan is emerging, this being the plan to start charging parents who need to use the CMS.
This new plan have been passed to parliament in the form of the Child Support Fees Regulations 2014. The plan includes the introduction of a £20 application fee to access the CMS and gain a child maintenance calculation. Furthermore should the non-resident parent fail to pay maintenance the resident parent will lose 4% of their child maintenance as part of the collection of maintenance fee, in addition the parent who fails to pay will be charged an additional 20% of the child maintenance as part of the collection fee. On this calculation, should the paying parent be order to pay £30 a week in child maintenance the receiving parent will lose £1.20 a week, totalling £62.40 a year and the paying parent would be paying an additional £6 a week, totalling £312 a year. Many single parents currently use the service to ensure that the money is drawn weekly from the paying parent and deposited to the receiving parent, without issue. The child in this situation is therefore losing out on at least £62.40 a year and if one were to look at this cynically it could be argued that the child is in fact losing out on £374.40 a year, which for most single parents is a significant amount.
Former Lord Chancellor Lord MacKay warned that the above plans were ‘unjustified in principle’. He is not the only one opposing the implementation of the charges. Lord Kirkwood warned that ‘condemning people to pay fees is contrary to natural justice, bad policy, and worst of all, inimical to the interests of the long-term future of many of our impoverished children.’ The Telegraph produced an article entitled, ‘Parents fight changes – and 20pc charges – in child maintenance reforms’, in which Janet Allbeson, a senior policy consultant at Gingerbread, said: “If you take away 4pc of income from a parent who is bringing up children, that is 4pc you are taking away from a child.” And Jerry Karlin, chairman of Families Need Fathers, added: “The proposals seem more likely to exacerbate problems for separated families than to help them work together. Parents who have trouble meeting a payment through circumstances beyond their control risk becoming caught up in a vicious cycle of accumulated debts and arrears.” Furthermore, when the plans were originally before the Lords in January 2012 peers from all parties expressed extreme alarm at the prospect of charging single parents to access the CMS.
There is however the argument from the government that implementing the charges may encourage separated parents to come to an amicable arrangement in regard to child maintenance. Some, however, may argue that this is somewhat naïve thinking on behalf of the government in that there are cases when it is virtually impossible for the receiving parent to agree with the paying parent and set up regular and consistent payment. There is also the argument of punishment with regard to the paying parent, in that should they not pay they should be punished for not doing so hence the 20% additional charge, if this is to be accepted then why charge the receiving parent 4% in addition?
The government plans to close all existing CSA arrangements and ask the parents involved to come to an arrangement between themselves. If they are unable to do so the receiving parent will need to pay the £20 application fee to apply for a new maintenance order under the CMS scheme. Chief Executive of Gingerbread Fiona Weir stated that ‘It is deeply disappointing that the concerns of distinguished peers from all parties, and of course of single parents themselves, have been swept aside by government. Hundreds of thousands of parents will now face case closure and charges over the next few years. We are very concerned about the impact on children, for whom child maintenance is vital. The charges will bring added financial burdens to many single parent families who are already struggling, and pressure others into unstable private arrangements.’
So whether the Child Support Fees Regulation 2014 is made in to a UK statutory instrument or not remains to be seen, but it would appear to be an extremely controversial matter. It will surely face extensive debate and we all await its conclusion.
For further information on the articles and draft legislation quote above, please see the below links:
The Child Support Fees Regulation 2014: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2014/9780111106365/contents
Gingerbread organisation homepage:
Parents fight changes – and 20pc charges – in child maintenance reforms, The Telegraph:
Changes in Child Maintenance Calculations and how they affect you, Stowe Family Law Trainee Blog, by Zoe White:
Photo by aarongilson via Flickr under a Creative Commons license