Serious changes to the Child Maintenance System

From the beginning there have been problems with the Child Support Agency. This has led the government to encourage parents to make their own arrangements rather than rely on the CSA which is extremely expensive to operate. The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) was introduced for this purpose. CMEC encourage and help separated couples to agree child maintenance. The CSA still exists for those cases where the absent parent refuses to pay or the parties cannot agree the level of maintenance to be paid.

On 10th December 2012 a new scheme was introduced for the CSA. The government are trying even harder to put off potential applicants by charging them and the absent parent. There will be an intake fee of £20 paid by the applicant who will also loose 7% of any maintenance assessed to be paid. The non resident parent will also have to pay 20% on top of the assessed maintenance as a handling fee. If enforcement steps are necessary further fees will be payable. This will of course encourage absent parents to reach an agreement with the other parent. At present if the absent parent doesn’t pay, the parent with care threatens to apply to the CSA and there is no adverse affect on the absent parent if the application goes ahead. In future such an application will cost the absent parent a significant amount. The new rules have been criticised by children’s charities as it is the children who will suffer if the level of child maintenance is reduced.

For the time being the rules will only affect new applicants and is being phased in by family demographic. Initially the new formula will only apply to families with at least four children between one set of parents. This will leave three different formulae running at the same time. The formula from 1993, the formula introduced in 2003 and the new formula.

Once the new formula is working, the earlier formulae will be brought to an end leaving parents with the choice of making their own arrangements or paying the fees required by the new system.

Currently child maintenance is assessed by reference to the absent parents net income. This will change to gross income although the intention is the same level of maintenance will be paid.

Other changes include terminology; the non resident parent will now be called ‘the parent who pays child maintenance’ and the parent with care the ‘parent who receives child maintenance’.

There will also now be a two stage calculation, income under £800 each week will incur child maintenance of 12% (remember this is now gross income) for one child, 16% for two children and 19% for three or more. Income over and above £800 will incur an extra 9% for one child, 12% for two children and 16% for three or more.

by Rebecca Woodley from the Wisbech office