KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 22-May-14 16:57:48

Guest post: Child maintenance fees - 'you've made your bed, now lie in it’?

The Child Support Agency is being abolished - soon parents will have to come to a private financial arrangement between themselves, or pay to use the new service. Mumsnet blogger Lottie Lomas argues that, under the new system, the children of separated parents will lose out.

Do read her post, and let us know what you think on the thread.

Lead photo
Lottie Lomas

The Secret Divorcée

Posted on

Thu 22-May-14 16:57:45

(85 comments)

Parents With Care will lose 4% of their maintenance if they use the new service

This week, more than 50,000 letters have been sent out by the Department for Work and Pensions to parents in England, Scotland and Wales who currently pay and receive child maintenance through the old Child Support Agency (CSA).

Attempting to sum up the changes in a nutshell is difficult; there are acronyms aplenty and percentages at every corner - but here goes:

The CSA is no more, and is being replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). Around one million cases will be transferred to the new arrangements, with the government saying that this scheme will offer greater efficiencies and - whisper it - a 90 million pound saving for the tax payer.

The major difference is that fees are set to be introduced – to both parents – under the new scheme. Parents will be asked to make their own private agreements and if that proves impossible, the parent with care (PWC) - usually the mother - can pay £20 to apply for a new maintenance order.

If the non resident parent (NRP) – most of whom are men – misses payments, the PWC can apply for payments to be taken automatically from their ex’s gross salary - but the government will charge them 4% of their child support for doing so.

There seems to be a growing feeling amongst taxpayers that they should not have to fund the messy divorces of warring couples. As one half of a warring (ex) couple, it feels like the message from the government is: you've made your bed, now lie in it.

There seems to be a growing feeling amongst taxpayers that they should not have to fund the messy divorces of warring couples. As one half of a warring (ex) couple, it feels like the message from the government is: you've made your bed, now lie in it.

They assume that it's a choice - a wilful act, to be on terrible terms with the father of your children. And one that a woman can reverse by just trying a bit harder. Of course it's not a choice - as Caroline Criado-Perez argues, one third of new applicants only turned to the CSA because private arrangements had failed - 45% had experienced violence or abuse from their ex, and 30% had no contact with them at all.

Even if your separation has been relatively amicable, coming to a private agreement is immensely difficult. I did it – eventually - preferring not to approach the CSA for all sorts of reasons, but it was incredibly stressful. When you're in the middle of a divorce, seeing your ex across the street is hard, never mind sitting down and having a rational conversation about handing over money. It us took 18 months of hard-wrangling and sly game-playing (on both sides) - with a predictable negative impact on my health and therefore my ability to look after my children.

There are people who can help, but they are inordinately expensive; when you have the choice of paying a solicitor at £200 per hour, or a £20 fee to the CMS it's a no-brainer. But women shouldn't have to choose between one fee and another – at this particular time in their lives, they need a service that is free to use.

Because, at the heart of all this blather are not the parents, but the children. The government seem to have lost sight of the fact that Child Support is there, as the phrase suggests, to support our children. It's the children who will miss out on that 4%.

When I was younger, I assumed that the people who made Laws and Rules were highly educated civil servants with brains the size of planets; all sitting at individual desks in oak panelled rooms, wrestling with the problems of the nation and coming to conclusions that are best for us all.

Now that I'm older and fustier, I now see that these rule-makers are just people like you and me, and they make cock-ups. In this case, they have certainly done so.

By Lottie Lomas

Twitter: @secretdivorcee

Viviennemary Thu 22-May-14 17:34:00

I don't think a £20 fee should be too much for most people to afford. I am assuming that it will be a one off charge. The CSA did need to be abolished. Most people think it's absolutely useless.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 17:58:59

Yes the charge is a one off application fee for the RP, so they have to pay a fee of £20 to try and receive what their child is entitled to.

And then off of every payment there is a 4% charge to the RP also. This is only if you use the calc and collect service through the CMS (which is really only used when the original less formal payment plan is breached by the NRP. So effectively the RP/child have an ongoing charge because a NRP won't pay up of their own free will. Doesn't seem all that fair to me.

There are higher charges to be paid by the NRP but I can't feel all that sorry for the majority since if they had followed the less formal payment plan they could have avoided the charges in the first place.

The whole system, old and new are severely flawed, the only difference is that now the government are making money out of potentially many vulnerable parents. I can't support this at all.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 18:12:16

I also do think that whilst £20 isn't an awful lot to some people it can be a lot to someone else. And even after paying that there is no guarantee of receiving any CM because as many RPs have found out the hard way, CM can be very easy to avoid if you know how (there are certain forums who have topics dedicated purely to CM avoidance, doesn't make for pretty reading either).

I say this as someone who has never received a penny towards my DDs upbringing even though my ExH is working, and I have an existing case.

SirChenjin Thu 22-May-14 18:33:15

£20 to recoup money you are owed seems reasonable to me - am I missing something? confused

Unfortunately there is no system in the world which would ensure that all monies owed are paid as there will always be parents who don't feel a financial responsibility to their children, but this new one has to be better than the current one, surely?

Kirk1 Thu 22-May-14 18:41:47

I thought I had dreamed hearing this yesterday. I like the idea of making absent/abusive parents pay extra for being unreasonable, but I see no reason why the woman who has escaped a bad situation or whose ex is doing the "you won't get a penny from me" shit cos he's wanting to spend money on the OW should be forced to pay anything in order to get him to pay up. I can also see that this will reduce what the resident parent will get, because if he has to pay 20% extra, what the nrp is assessed as able to pay will have to be proportionally reduced.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 18:41:55

I honestly don't think it is better. They have not made any changes on enforcement of payments which in my personal opinion is what the government should be focusing on.

Whether a parent doesn't feel a financial responsibility or not it doesn't change the fact that they do and I think more time and effort should be spent enforcing that. The only thing that I do hope is that the money accrued by these charges is put towards improving the system.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 18:45:16

Kirk the calculations are actually taken from gross earnings now so the NRP charges will not have an effect on the amount of CM paid to the RP, it just means that they have to pay a larger amount.

The 4% charge the the RP has to pay will obviously reduce it though. Not to mention that RP have to pay money to try and receive money that rightfully should be for their child.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 18:47:16

I also do realise that 4% isn't much but I still don't think it's right that this is effectively being taken from the child who the claim is being made for.

Viviennemary Thu 22-May-14 18:57:06

I agree that any #profit' made by this agency should be put back into the system. Maybe for parents in real hardship who can't afford the charges. But I can't see anything wrong with attempting to make it self-financing.

dollius Thu 22-May-14 19:03:46

If a woman has to go to the CMS, it will be because the father is not paying what he should be and is, presumably, not amenable to doing so.\

So why on earth isn't HE being charged the 4% for being obstructive in the first place?

So many more children will just end up not being supported by their fathers at all and the taxpayer will have to make up the shortfall.

So, ultimately, this change is a massive false economy.

Meglet Thu 22-May-14 19:29:41

The parents who use the CSA are the ones with abusive / controlling / plain nasty ex partners. If a private agreement could be reached, they would have done so.

So thanks again Tories for another kick in the teeth for those of us who have left abusive relationships. My ex will be livid when his payment is increased and me and the dc's will be the target of his anger. I am terrified.

And for anyone who thinks victims of domestic abuse have been able to move house and are living at a secret address safe from their ex, I have a job, house and family in the same town. There was no option to leave. We are a sitting target when XP flares up again.

meandcoffeeequalhappy Thu 22-May-14 19:46:13

£20 is an absolutely huge amount of money to a lot of single parents trying to afford to bring up their children. If they had lots of disposable income they would be going through the courts to be the money from the NRP to start with. £20 is a week of school meals for two children, or nearly a pair of new shoes when they grow out of them, or petrol for the car to get to work or school. Many NRP don't want to pay CM, and now well, it is even easier for them to get out of it. Why would they pay 15% or 20% when they can get away with far less with no checks and balances, who is checking what their income actually is? After all they believe it is just frittered away on frappuccinos and toy boys by money grabbing ex's. CSA was frankly a total joke and farce, but at least it took away some of the sheer stress and anxiety of wondering if you would even get any CM that month to help pay that horrendous electricity bill, because some organisation with some power was involved and a buffer between you and an abusive ex. I predict that now as it becomes more difficult, it will increase animosity, children will really suffer financially and emotionally, and parents on both sides will be stressed and depressed and put pressure on the NHS and the benefits system.

Meglet Thu 22-May-14 19:53:41

<Raises hand> I know I'm the minority but I've not had a single problem with the CSA in 5yrs. The new fees will ruin it for us and make xp so angry that he may start messing us around.

And FWIW I've fought these charges since day 1. Letters to MP's, Lords, Gingerbread etc. Now it's all lost and we will be worse off. The HOL ruled against the charges, it's only the nasty Tories who pushed them through.

Kitchensinktoday Thu 22-May-14 20:03:24

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Kitchensinktoday Thu 22-May-14 20:04:15

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EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 20:11:09

Kitchen What an ignorant statement to make and completely wrong too.

Child maintenance payments aren't for funding the Mother's lifestyle, it is for providing for their children. Something which RP do every damn day of the kids lives many NRP do this too but far too many don't because they can get away with not doing it.

Is your partner paying CM by any chance? Are you bitter about him providing for his children from a previous relationship?

By the way, NRP are now having to pay more money not less. It's just that some of that money goes to the faceless government. It doesn't put NRP or RP in a better financial position for the record.

Welcome to Mumsnet by the way hmm

AskBasil Thu 22-May-14 20:27:20

Nice line of misogynistic crap you talk Kitchen.

Posters like you have their uses as they remind women why feminism is still necessary.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 20:37:22

D'you know, Kitchens post got me thinking though.

I know a lot of single parents. Not one of the RP are out of work. I know quite a few NRP who are though. And out of all of the RP who's ex's are out of work or who work cash in hand or self employed to avoid payments they are all women who had been victim of domestic abuse, myself included.

I wonder if others find the same.

timefliesby Thu 22-May-14 21:29:29

Think you probably just hit the nail on the head EasyTigress. I'm in that category. I work. My ex is self-employed. He was a controlling, abusive, threatening bully. I left EVERYTHING behind. Even the kids' toys. We started again from scratch. Still to get him to pay maintenance. It's the abusive behaviour continuing.

rainbowfeet Thu 22-May-14 21:38:32

Haven't received a letter yet but does anyone know what will happen to my case please very worried now..

Ds's dad did all he could to avoid paying including denying parentage (DNA test done via CSA) & ignoring all correspondence with them.. Finally a deduction in earnings order was made to his employer & I have received regular payments.

I'm just worried if I have to re-apply for payments I will have a long time gap without any payments .. We are not in any contact at all he is abusive & will do whatever he can to get out of paying.

Thank you.

flaggybannel Thu 22-May-14 21:39:02

I'm also in that category easyTigress. Nrp never worked a day in his life, at least not officially.

EasyTigeress Thu 22-May-14 21:47:16

Absolutely, it's an extension of the abuse. It is the last hold they think they have. I can't help but think that the reality of a lot of RP who have no other choice but to go through the CSA/CMS is vastly different from what people think. I am not saying that some RP don't abuse the system. There will always be people who will but for the majority who do not, the new legislation could have a hugely negative effect.

I was similar to you, I left a lot behind but I have tried my hardest and 3 years on am still trying my hardest to build a good life for my daughter and I.

I just can't help but feel there is an element of punishment here for parents who are already stretched to their limits. I am fortunate enough that I am not struggling too much financially any more but it sometimes does feel like a constant battle just to keep everything ticking over. If it's not one bill, it's clothes or shoes that I really have to scrape together for. I always manage it but sometimes just barely and it pisses me off that while so many RP do their best their kids they are still having to battle to have the other parent step up to what is morally the right thing to do. And on top of that, they now get charged to do it too.

timefliesby Thu 22-May-14 22:05:45

EasyTigress absolutely, it's not right. In my case, it's about to get a whole lot harder as we are venturing into our own house after two year's with my mum. The ex can easily afford to help. He just chooses not to. You're right, the whole thing of charging the RP for the NRPs inability to meet his obligations is morally wrong and in some circumstances will cause more financial hardship for children. I thought there were statistics about lifting children out of poverty, how exactly is this going to help?!

Pandachu Thu 22-May-14 22:35:50

I'm not here to give my opinion, but I am here to give out some FACTS. The media, and pretty much everything that has publicly posted about the changes either haven't fully done their research or haven't posted the full story. As usual they haven't given the full picture, and I'm here to post some of the truths regarding this change.

The case closures are expected to take up to 2-3 years from now, and all parents will receive a letter notifying them about it before their case is closed.

1) The laws have not yet come into place, but are planned to, at some point during this year.

2) Parents will not have to pay an application fee if they make their application before the fees come into place.

3) There are 4 options to arrange child maintenance:
Family Based Arrangement - Free (Private agreement)
Direct Pay - Will incur application fee in future, wont incur the 4%/20% charge in future. (CMS)
Collect and Pay - Will incur application fee, and fees for collecting/paying out child maintenance in the future. (CMS)
Consent Order - agreement through the courts instead, will obviously incur fees.

4) Everything except from a Family Based Arrangement is legally enforceable if payments are missed.

5) People who have suffered from domestic violence can avoid the charges by going through Direct Pay, where you can set up a bank account with a non-geographic sort code, and the CMS will pass on these bank details to the other parent on your behalf (so no actual direct contact needed).

6) Arrears will not be "wiped clean". You should receive a letter through the post regarding this when you get notified about your case closures. Arrears will be transferred to the CMS when your case does, you will however receive a letter that may ask you if you want to clear the arrears (DO NOT SIGN THIS).

7) Although Direct Pay requires some contact, unless in cases of domestic violence (only to set up the payments, can be indirect contact, don't need to negotiate amount) - they do the calculation for you, send it out to both parents -, it is still legally enforceable and set up through the Child Maintenance Service. Both parents will be notified that there will be charges if paying parent doesn't pay, so it's going to be in his/her interest to pay up as they will be paying 20% on top of the maintenance if they don't, plus will be facing enforcement charges for deduction of earnings ect. Quite an incentive to pay up imo...

8) When charges come into place, legislation will change regarding the rules of applying to the 2 different schemes (Direct Pay/Collect + Pay). At the moment if 1 parent doesn't want to do Direct Pay, the paying parent has no other option but to pay through the Collect and Pay scheme. If the paying parent has shown that they have paid on time, every time through that scheme, when the charges come into place, the paying parent will have the option to apply for Direct Pay in order to avoid the upcoming charges, as they have proven their willingness to pay (will obviously be switched back to Collect + Pay if there are any problems), and the receiving parent will have no other option than to try Direct Pay (and also avoid their 4% reduction).

9) Direct Pay doesn't require any direct contact. You only need to set up a payment method - which could be easily done through a friend/family, text, email, telephone call, or letter. Once again, using Direct Pay won't incur charges.

If you want any confirmation on this information feel free to give the Child Maintenance Service a call.

More information about the Options/charges on www.cmoptions.org

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