At the beginning of the month, the Department for Work and Pensions sent out approximately 50,000 letters to parents in relation to potential charges to be introduced for the collection of child support payments.
In due course, the Child Support Agency is to be abolished and replaced by the newer Child Maintenance Service (CMS). Since its inception in April 1993, the Child Support Agency has undergone numerous changes and there continue to be in operation three different schemes under which child support is calculated. Over time the older schemes are to be phased out.
Once introduced, there will be a charge of £20 (unless an exemption applies) for the CMS to carry out a calculation of child support payments. If those payments are then to be collected through the CMS, the paying parent is to be charged an additional 20% and the amount received by the receiving parent will be reduced by 4%. There will be additional charges levied in the event enforcement action is required.
In order to avoid paying these charges altogether, parents are being encouraged to enter into their own arrangements instead of using the statutory scheme that has become expensive to administer. These are to be known as ‘Family-based Arrangements’. If the parents cannot agree on a figure for child maintenance and the CMS undertake a calculation then subsequent collection charges can be avoided by arrangements being put in place for payments to be made direct between the parents.
All new applications for child support will need to be made via Child Maintenance Options, a service that will act as a gateway. The website can be found at: www.cmoptions.org. Parents will be provided with information on different child maintenance arrangements so that they can decide what is best for them.
A number of organisations, including Gingerbread and the Child Poverty Action Group, have expressed concern over the practicality of some parents being able to make a family-based arrangement and the new charges to be introduced, fearing that the real losers will be the very children who the scheme is intended to benefit.