Single parents may be aware that the Child Support Agency (CSA) that has since 1993 been the agency to help children receive maintenance from their non-resident parent. The CSA’s successor, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC), intends in 2012 to run a new scheme which is already provoking considerable criticism.
The plans, which are only at a consultation stage – and so not yet through Parliament or yet passed as law – will allow the government to charge parents fees for using CMEC. Precise details as to the amount of the fee and when it will be charged to parents – and who may qualify for a reduction – is still for debate. Early indications are that there will be an application fee of £100 which would have to be paid up front. There would likely be a reduction for parents receiving benefits so that they would potentially pay £50, with only £20 required up front. In addition to the application fee, however, the plans are to charge between a minimum of 7% and a maximum of 12% by way of a “collection charge” from any maintenance paid. As a result, single parents will be hit both at the referral stage and throughout.
No application fee is payable by the non-resident parent and if after CMEC carry out a calculation of what maintenance should be paid and the parents agree to make payments direct (and not through CMEC), there will be no collection charges. The non resident parent can avoid paying through CMEC and pay direct even if the resident parent refuses. If problems arise and CMEC have to step in to collect maintenance for the resident parent, the non-resident parent can face collection surcharges of between 15 an 20% and also a further (so far unspecified) charge when CMEC has to enforce the arrangement.
Parents can apply for a calculation service alone, at a cost of between £20 and £25 – this is intended to confirm how much a non resident parent might expect to receive on the basis of information held by the tax office. This might be seen to give parents a relatively inexpensive way of finding out their likely entitlement for the children. For those on benefits, however, the move towards a paid service is unlikely to be received with open arms, particularly when in some cases those families rely so heavily on the support that they should be receiving for the children from the absent parent.
While refreshing news for some that the child support faces reform, there is likely to be considerable criticism if the plans come into effect. Already there is concern from Gingerbread, the support group for one-parent families that the new regime will potentially cause greater hardship for families that already struggle. Statistics suggest that more than a million single parent families rely on maintenance from former partners and Government research shows that 64% of parents that use the CSA are not hopeful that they could make a private arrangement with the non resident parent despite the new guidelines.
Gingerbread’s Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:
“The government wants parents to make their own child maintenance arrangements but for many families that just isn’t possible. Informal agreements can be scuppered by conflict, lack of trust or a non-resident parent’s reluctance to pay. While Gingerbread is in favour of providing greater support to separating parents to help them cooperate over arrangements, imposing charges on those who can’t will only end up hurting children.”
More information regarding the proposals can be found on the Gingerbread website.
At Stephens Scown we have a wealth of experience in dealing with all aspects of family work, including children matters and divorce. Stephens Scown has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. Its family solicitors are top ranked in Devon and Cornwall and advises clients on a wide range of family law including matrimonial and partner issues including separation, divorce and civil partnerships, domestic violence, family finance and child access.