The House of Commons debate: “Performance of child maintenance service in recovering payments from absent”

18 / 10 / 2019

When dealing with child maintenance, parents can arrange this directly (a family based arrangement), pay through the Child Maintenance Service (“CMS”) (Collect & Pay) or alternatively, contact the CMS for a calculation of the liability for child maintenance and thereafter pay directly (Direct Pay).

CMS statistics released on 20 June 2018

I previously wrote about the CMS statistics released last year confirming that on 20 June 2018, the Department for Work & Pensions produced its CMS statistics which included data for August 2013 to March 2018.

The statistics showed, for example, that the amount of child maintenance due to be paid through the Collect & Pay service and also the money due to be paid through the Direct Pay had more than doubled respectively from March 2016 to March 2018.

They also demonstrated that throughout the above period, the Direct Pay arrangements had been more commonly used than the Collect & Pay services – perhaps due to the charges levied – with it being confirmed that “at the end of March 2018, 69% of Paying Parents are using Direct Pay and 33% the Collect & Pay Service.  3% of Paying Parents use both services”.

Rather worryingly, they also showed that “between January and March 2018, 60% of paying parents using the Collect & Pay service were compliant”.  More positively, however, it did say that in the last quarter of that period, compliance had increased. I had hoped that it would continue to do so.

The House of Commons Briefing Paper : “Child maintenance: enforcing payment of arrears (GB)”

However, on 1 October 2019. The House of Commons published a Briefing Paper entitled “Child maintenance: enforcing payment of arrears (GB)” and it does appear that the system is still running with problems – particularly where enforcement of payment is concerned.

The House of Commons debate: “Performance of child maintenance service in recovering payments from absent parents”

On 2 October 2019, a debate within the House of Commons “Performance of child maintenance service in recovering payments from absent parents” took place.

The debate commenced with Mr Grant indicating:

“I see too many cases in which it is obvious that a parent is determined to avoid their responsibilities and that they can get away with it—sometimes for years at a time—which is just not good enough. It is far too easy, for example, to hide income from the Child Maintenance Service, which too often leaves it to the resident parent to produce the evidence that their ex-partner is effectively committing fraud. That is bad enough at the best of times, but if the resident parent has been the victim of domestic abuse or financially coercive and controlling behaviour, it is wholly unacceptable to make them responsible for ensuring that the other parent of their children complies with their legal responsibilities.”.

In response, Justin Tomlinson, on behalf of the government, said that progress was being made. He pointed towards the fact that compliance rates were improving with the percentages of compliance, with those on the Collect & Pay scheme being at 62% in 2018 and increasing to 67% in July 2019. He also pointed towards the amount of child maintenance arrears outstanding (albeit still way too high) were decreasing.

The government have said that they are hoping to improve this further by further measures that have been introduced such as:

  • Better training for frontline staff;
  • Explaining options to parents;
  • Texting the receiving parents to see if there are any issues; and
  • Improved regulations to strengthen the Child Maintenance Service’s ability to investigate and enforce.

Hopefully, the improvements pointed to will continue as a receiving parent not receiving child maintenance for a child or children can often cause them a great deal of financial difficulty.