Child Maintenance Fees Introduced

From 30th June all new applicants to the Child Maintenance Service will be charged a one off application fee of £20.

The only exceptions are as follows:-

Victims of domestic violence who have reported this to an appropriate person or organisation
Residents of Northern Ireland
Parents aged under 19

From 11th August both parents will be charged collection charges if they are in the Collect and Pay system. In this option the Child Maintenance Service calculate the maintenance due and arranges collection of payments. 4% will be deducted from the child maintenance payments received by the parent with whom the child resides and 20% will be added on to the child maintenance liability for the non-resident parent. Parents already in the Collect and Pay system will be given the opportunity to transfer to the free Direct Pay option. In this option The Child Maintenance Service calculates the amount of maintenance due and the parents then agree between them how the payments are made. This could be by standing order , money transfer or pay pal etc. If there are maintenance arrears, but no enforcement action, the paying parent has until 5th August 2014 to clear the arrears. They can then opt for the Direct Pay arrangement. Enforcement charges will now apply where the Child Maintenance Service has to take enforcement action against non-payers in the Collect and Pay system. These charges will not apply to existing enforcement action taken prior to 30th June 2014.

Those parents still in the Child Support Agency system will be given notice, expected to be six months, that the arrangement will be brought to an end. Such parents will be offered support from Child Maintenance Options to put a new arrangement in place. While parents remain within the CSA system they will not be charged for the service.

The Child Support Agency turned out to be an extremely expensive option for the government. It was also not particularly effective. Parents are now encouraged to make their own arrangements under a Family Based Arrangement. This is where parents agree how to calculate payments and how such payments are made. Parents can agree whatever suits the family. For example it might be agreed that the absent parent buys items for the child such as clothes or school uniform or the absent parent may be responsible for other expenses in relation to the child. Alternatively parents can agree an appropriate level of monthly maintenance and how that maintenance should be paid. If parents cannot agree they are left with no choice but to use the Collect and Pay system and both will incur the charges set out above. This provides both parents with an incentive to reach their own agreement. The new rules have been criticised by bodies representing the interests of children. They are concerned less child maintenance will be paid under the new system and therefore the children will suffer.

by Rebecca Woodley from the Downham Market office