The government announced that parents who default on child maintenance payments will be referred to credit reference agencies, potentially leading to the refusal of loans and other credit instruments to parents in arrears. We should temper our optimism, however, says Janet Allbeson. There is a very clear danger that the new Child Maintenance Service will prove reluctant to use the new enforcement power.
For the over 700,000 families with dependent children who are presently owed over £1 billion in unpaid child maintenance, Minister Steve Webb’s announcement last week that the government is planning new tough action on parents who persistently refuse to pay child maintenance is very welcome. New regulations to be laid in Parliament in March 2015 will mean that details of a parent’s poor paying record could be passed on to credit reference agencies. In turn, this could lead to a parent with child maintenance debts being refused loans, mortgages, credit cards or mobile phone contracts.
The government’s declared determination to now “tackle this kind of irresponsible behaviour” could not come soon enough for the many single parents who are struggling financially due to unpaid maintenance. Non-payment of child maintenance can have serious and long-lasting consequences for single parent families, with a devastating impact on children’s wellbeing. It can mean struggling to pay the bills and keep a roof over children’s heads. Debts incurred as a result can take many years of hardship and stress to clear. Children can end up deprived of the things others take for granted – from the basics of decent food, a warm home and adequate clothing to things like a computer for homework, pocket money, school trips and holidays.
That’s why, even if paid months or years late, getting child maintenance which is owed really matters. And why, active and persistent pursuit of parents who refuse to pay for their children is a very important part of the job for the Child Support Agency (CSA) and the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
But single parents who are owed arrears of maintenance could be pardoned for not getting their hopes up too highly as a result of the latest announcement. Many have tried for years with little success to get the Child Support Agency to take effective collection and enforcement action. The Minister said that “For too long, a minority of absent parents [sic] have got away with failing to pay maintenance.” Too true; and the reason for this can be laid at the door of the CSA. An independent panel of debt experts, brought in by the government in 2011 to advise on collecting child maintenance arrears, concluded that arrears collection could be described as “extra-curricular” to the everyday activity of the Agency. With little central management information on parents in debt and limited performance indicators for arrears collection, the Panel took the view that the Agency was simply not structured for the pursuit of arrears. That structure has not changed.
It is a depressing fact that the newly announced power to inform credit reference agencies about a parent’s child maintenance payment record has been on the statute books since 2008. The fact that it will have taken seven years to implement by the time regulations come into force does not suggest any great urgency in improving enforcement options. Another reason which may temper optimism that money owed will be forthcoming anytime soon, is that – with the CSA or CMS only permitted to pass information to credit reference agencies once they have obtained a liability order from the courts – the number of liability orders the CSA is applying for has actually been falling. In April 2013 to March 2014 there were 31% fewer applications for liability orders than the previous year.
The Minister has already said he hopes the new power will be used only rarely, and that the threat alone will be act as sufficient deterrent to those considering avoiding paying what they owe. Too often in the past, tough talk has not been followed by delivery. The danger is that, if the CSA or CMS proves reluctant to use this new enforcement power, recalcitrant non-payers will quickly wise up to the fact and shrug off the new threat.
Will things change in the future? Over the next three years, all one million or so current CSA cases will be closed down, with the arrears owed to single parents and their children transferred to the new Child Maintenance Service for collection. Single parents will be hoping that that the new CMS will be better structured for the pursuit of arrears, and that getting parents to pay their child maintenance debts will be given greater urgency.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image credit: David Spender CC BY 2.0
Janet Allbeson is Senior Policy Adviser at Gingerbread. Formerly she was Committee Specialist to the Work and Pensions Select Committee and a lawyer specialising in social welfare law.
Lets not forget it takes 2 people to bring a child up not just the absent parents pocket. I see a lot of posts where the resident parent is complaining about the other parent not paying enough for this, that and anything else.
I’m not talking about £5 a week just a normal regular payment. When 2 parent live together you help with costs of gas and electric, food and clothes etc. It get my goat when the other half thinks the payments are for them to pay for their lifestyle rather than what it’s meant for.
I’ve always said the money should be on a special card that can only be used to pay for life essentials to stop some resident parents abusing the money they get and then try and claim for more
It really annoys me all the sites slating dads for not paying CS my daughter is 15 now and has lived with me for 5 years. Her mother has not seen her more than 4 times in the past 3 years while making 0 contributions. While when my daughter lived with her mother I had my daughter fri to mon every week and over half the times during holiday. I paid everything for my daughters school needs uniform, shoe, pe kit and trips. I also paid CS to her mother.
Both parents should be treated equal not all dads are bad and not all mothers are good. I agree with Gavin a card should be used so money is spent on the children not for drinking.
I can’t believe the one sidedness of this article , what about the NRP new family are they not worth anything! And how is it even legal to take 40% of earnings BEFORE TAX AND NI leaving the other family in poverty .. as some one else stared I’m ashamed to say I’m British ..
Children are for life not just for Xmas. You cannot just move on and expect the resident parent to pick up the slack. My son is 13 and I have only received 8 months of payments from his father. As soon as the CMS caught up with him he left his job after trying to deny paternity.
Unfortunately the CMS cannot obtain funds from parents who are self employed or who work cash in hand
It is disgusting the number of parents who think their children can be brought up on fresh air
So because life didn’t work out, you feel you can just move on and deprive the first set of children in order for the new family? You decided to have these those children, and the new children. You have a responsibility to all of them- despite which parent you reside with.
Okay so yes I can SURVIVE on my part-time wages plus the top up I get from working tax credits but why should I just be able to survive and keep my Head above water. Why should my sons dad can live the life of Riley while I provide for our son, keep a roof over his head, pay for childcare, heat the house, use water, electric, food, clothes, fuel etc. He buys a new MacBook, phone car and then has the cheek to complain and not pay maintenance. I’m sorry but he is equally responsible for the financial asepects of our son as I am.
And what punishment is the Csa going to get for not getting the payments to the single parent , my partner has waited 8 weeks for a payment from Csa,
It’s about time the child maintenance system was shaken up and made fairer for the paying parent. It’s no wonder these non-resident parents kick up a fuss and refuse to pay. The CMS should look at the paying parent’s outgoings and set a payment which is affordable and fair. They should also take into consideration the receiving parents income including the benefits etc that they receive. I was a single mum for several years and the combination of my full time income plus the child benefit I received was more than enough money to survive on. It really irritates me hearing single mothers constantly pleading poverty; I’ve been there and done it and I know how much money we receive as single parents – more than enough to live comfortably! These single parents should learn how to manage their money better and stop using the CMS to bully unreasonable amounts of money out of their ex-partners.
I’m finding it hard to understand why, as a former single parent, you aren’t being supportive of women who say they are struggling financially? Living on benefits doesn’t mean you live the life of Riley, especially when you work! Plus, people having varying levels of rent or mortgage payments to meet with little support.
I consider your comment an insult to women with children, who for quite often no fault of their own, are in difficult positions. Shame on you.
I think Mel’s comment is about fairness, not about ‘an insult to women’ etc. The ugly fact is that some single mothers do work and yet claim poverty, or choose to work part-time even when their children are teenagers. Parental alienation is another weapon used by some mums to ensure that the father does not get access to his children and consequently have to pay more. There are many other ways fathers are denied access – allegations of violence, bullying etc are all too common and in many cases not substantiated (although just to be clear, I am not at all underplaying domestic violence when it really happens).
It absolutely does not make sense why the receiving parent’s income and outgoings are not assessed, or why the contributing parent’s income is judged before tax and NI (which is not a voluntary payment, everyone has to pay tax). I know of fathers who find their own disposable income much lower than the mum’s because of this unfairness.
There also needs to be a cap on the maximum payment to stop exploitation of the system for greed. Maybe a proportion of the money could be put in a government bond for the child’s future education, or deposit for a first home.
I know of fathers who have been prevented from fathering their children, who have been driven to suicidal thoughts because their beloved children have been taken away from them. So please don’t paint all men with the same brush. Both sexes have dishonest and malicious individuals. Unfortunately the Child Maintenance Agency does not look at this, which makes the system truly unjust.
so unfair on the single parents who are left struggling to bring up the abandoned children while the other parent moves on to have yet more children. action is needed to prevent this on going circle of action that is happening over and over again by the same non caring parent who repeatedley abandons numerous children not just once but numerous times there by leaving not just one single parent to handle their siblings but 2 3 or upto 4 single parents behind having to cope on their own whilst the other parent moves on with life starting yet another relationship and more siblings with yet another partner and only to leave them yet again. it is made so easy for them to do this and then walk away with no care as to paying helping or supporting thier siblings in any way
Honestly people.WAKE UP. A government tax for the welfare of the children.
Can anyone please tell me what system or systems the csa have in place to ensure the kids receive the money’s or that the money’s are actually spent on the kids?????
David Graham. Exactly. I asked in court to pay my children directly and was denied. I stopped paying entirely because the same woman that was wildly spending my money before the divorce just continued to do so.
Mistake in spelling that should say I brought my children up these tablets keep changing my words .
I understand as a mother who’s bought my own children up on my own no help at all and live with a partner who has child maintenance services after him …I know he has a right to support his child but his ex drew up an agreement that he would get a lump sum when house is sold and child maintenance would be £100 amonth,.now because he’s taking her to court to get his money he is owed, that with the document drawn up with solicitors which she’s signed,she says she doesn’t recognise the document, so now she got the support agency involved and they have awarded 277 pound a month to her, base on what he earned the previous year, now his wages have dropped they don’t take that into account … which I think is very unfair,i think when an agreement has been made the agency should take that into consideration I can’t believe they can make a judgement when they don’t know your out goings, so some dad’s are penalised and can understand why they get mad think it should go back to the old court system …
That’s because the system is so corrupted they don’t care if we are out on the streets with no job all they care about is the money they won’t stop until we kill our selfs
Well 2 years on and still fighting to get my payments from the ex husband he asked me to go through csa so I did as soon as he realised how much he wanted to compromise so I did he failed to make regular payments and then decided not to pay for 1 child out of 3 I then contacted cms who said they would deal with the situation now the father has decided to lie stating he’s out of work gives them 2 weeks to send in evidence then he’s off sick another 2 weeks of evidence bit of a joke to be honest I work full time and run a home I have 3 children yet he won’t pay but tells the kids he provides yet another lie. His lies on the divorve papers was a complete joke as well he was basically laughed at. Why can’t they just think about their responsibility and look after the children and why can’t cms be more tactful and know how to collect from these types of people
As a single father with full residency/custody of my daughter, I’m in an unusual position of claiming CMS payments from the absent mother. I have to say, at this point, I’ve not always had residency, I paid csa, every penny, without (almost) complaint, for 8 years, until I got residency 2 years ago, when my daughter was 10, now, it’s a fight to get payments from the mother. The mother did pay for the 1st year. A derisory amount, way less than I was paying, but, she paid. As the CMS works out payments from wages earned (the previous tax year) as shown at HMRC and the mother had gone from part time to full time, the reassessment after the first year, more than doubled the payments owed by the mother, who then declared to all and sundry, that she was not going to pay, ever and that I had to get a letter from CMS to prove that she had to pay me directly. That was laughable as the default is payment to the other parent. I have to say, so far, the CMS has been great with me. As soon as the 1st payment was missed, I waited the advised 5 days before informing the agency that the payment was missed, they told me they would look into it, I told them, int he same call, that they would have no joy in getting in touch with the mother as she had changed her mobile number (no landline at hers) and that she was refusing to pay and that she would ignore all the calls from the CMS as well as letters etc. Long story short, this was exactly what happened. They did, in fairness, speak to her, once, briefly, and were told that there was no way she was going to pay the arrears (now £700) or any future payments and she slammmed the phone down on them. This is what the CMS told me when they called me to inform me about their lack of sucess in getting any sort of payment plan in place. In the same call, they said that they were then setting up an attachment of earnings order, they know where she works due to the HMRC records etc and I was told that it could take upto 7 weeks before I see any money, this is to allow the employer respond to the attachment of earnings order and to get it all set up etc, in reality, for me, when I got the new payment schedule, it was more like 9 weeks and the date given was the earliest date I could expect to see any money. At the time of writing, it’s now 7 weeks to go, minimum, the missing payments are causing some hassle, but I keep that away from my daughter, she doesn’t need to know, at the end of the day, she’s loving her life, she has control (given by the courts) as to when she see’s her mother (rarely and no sleep overs in 2 years), she is settled and all the emotional grief she was going through has ended. That aside, I await payments from the mothers employer, I am interested to see if the mother carries out her threat to go unemployed to avoid paying the monies owed, she does not realies that she has a legal responsibility to pay, nor does she realise that a debt is still a debt, it won’t go away. There are bad mothers out there who refuse responsibility, refuse to pay, admittedly they are few and far between, but they do exist. I have missed one thing out, the mother was paying me directly, when that stopped, it went to the collection service, this means she has to pay an extra 20% and I lose 4%, that failed entirely, hence the attachment of earnings order.
I wish I could have organised things amicably with my ex but he always financially abused me when we were together and has lied and schemed since I left him. After 10 months of being paid £1 a week most weeks but not all weeks I gave up and contacted the CSA who were great in my case. My ex resented being told what to do and moved himself into full time education but sent me e-mails bragging that he was still working and there was nothing I could do about it. Understandably I went back to the CSA to see what could be done – they didn’t tell me straight away but eventually someone told me I could raise a Variation Form to initiate an appeal. Their investigation found out that he was indeed working and that he had a decent wage. The payments have been reinstated. I know I am very fortunate compared with many resident parents but the CSA gets a bashing and in my situation with a truly tricky ex they have seen my son right.
CMS = costs towards roof over heads, heating, food, clothing, etc etc etc at a cost of £42 per week! That will cover pack lunches for a month!
Shocked at what I’m reading! I’m a single mum, worker, and full time student with a non resident parent not helping towards the up keep of his son… His own welfare is put before his sons….
I am part of a massive forum of mums and dads fighting the CMS to get non paying parents to take responsibility of their kids! The CMS is a complete and utter FAILURE! Some of you clearly don’t have children!
nd of day, fathers should contribute to their child, its not a case of she had it I didn’t want it, coz you both did the deed to get a child so both have equal responsibility to that child, whether or not if the person bringing up the child has a new partner or not. If its your child. Pay towards bringing that child up, if its feed warm clothed, then the money you give is going towards the childs well being. I don’t think anyone paying should be left broke, .. Then more should the parent raising the child. If you don’t want . simple wear a condom, take the pill etc etc.. No child asks to be born!!!! But as parents we should all be responsible . . so many absent parents quick to walk away from handing money over, only person that really misses out and suffers the child.
The chuild doesn’t benefit if the custodian was divorced because she couldn’t handle money and the money gets pissed away without the children seeing a penny.
Kerry you are absolutely correct. Parents should and must resolve this between themselves, the current system allows a woman to demand, lie, punish and do whatever she likes in spite. It’s sad and of course not all women are like this, but its a serious failure of our system.
Jezz – it is not always possible to resolve these things if a relationship has been an abusive one. Many resident parents complain about having to pay for the new service but for me I think it is worth it because I know it is the only way my son will get a fair deal. It’s never been about me – if it was I would have pushed for spousal maintenance on top of child maintenance – but I am able to support myself and I have no wish to depend on my ex.
Maybe Janet Allbeson doesn’t actually understand anything in English law or maybe even understand the Truth behind where the Child support money actually goes?
A very large majority of women receiving CSA money is actually living the cream it lifestyle, Nice house, nice new car, and a new partner that pays for everything. The CSA is statutory legislation, not a Law, so for how many years has the Government and the DWP or CSA been Breaking their own Statutes and legislations and law by abusing powers and taking money from men who did not contract or sign a maintenance enquiry or assessment form? You madam should have the real guts and honesty to be writing an article here that clearly states that anyone trying to take salary or money from anyone in the UK without their prior consent, agreement, or contract is actually attempting theft of personal and private property and by sending a DEO to fathers employer is also committing a criminal offence which is trying to obtain money through deception!! And that is a criminal offence which the DWP and CSA are all legally and lawfully responsible for.
Explain why not one single woman pays CSA?
Adrian – why are you so sure no women pay child maintenance? There may not be many but I can think of one I know. She can’t be the only one.
And I forgot to mention, yes, adults do gave choices, women make the choice on a regular basis the push the father out of the child’s life and in my opinion if they decide to this, then they should be willing to take full responsibility for that child financially and otherwise. It is punishment enough not getting to spend time with your child let alone being forced to pay for that child and having no evidence that the money goes towards that child. If the mother remarries or gets into a new relationship then she will not be so let burdened with bringing up a child alone. She can go on with her life but he us expected to put his on hold for 18 years.. from your response I can tell you are one of those women who thinks it is all about you. Everyone should have the right to a decent living standard. The only people expected to make compromises these days are working people.
First of all, you are assuming that the man had a choice in the woman givibg birth to the child. Women, as a rule of thumb, control what birth control they take. If they fall pregnant the man cannot insist on an abortion should he not want to be a father (the woman could make the choice to end the pregnancy though if she didn’t want to be a mither). The man is then burdened for life. The simple fact is that earning more money us not always a choice, sone people do not have the skills, ability or opportunity to earn more. Bills, rent,mortgage etc all need to be paid. As a mother, you will get support from the government to ensure you gave a certain income, the father gets no support if he cannot afford to pay for his children and his living costs. There is nothing to check any money provided us spent on the child. A man should mot be prevented from continuing on with his life, there is no financial burden enforced on a woman who goes onto marry another man and gave further children. The woman can punish the man for the rest of his life, there is nothing preventing her denying him access and using the child as a weapon . If a woman does this I don’t think the man should gave to pay for that child, you don’t get told by the police to say than you when someone punches you in the face … same principle. If the mother is punishing the father, she should not get money towards the child’s up bringing. And my children are equally important and I am sick to death of the idea a child from a separated parent has more rights than mine…they’re all children at the end of the day and all deserve a decent up bringing. Too many single mums in this country enjoying the power they are wielding over their ex. You are clearly one of those people and it sickens me. Everyone is entitled to justice and fairness.
Men are constantly punished and labelled as the ‘bad guy’ when there are plenty of women willing and eager to bad mouth the man, run them down in court, to their children, deny access and take as much money as they can. The government doesn’t care about the father’s financial commitments or other children. Women are not always victims and many do use their children to punish the father. Let’s be honest, if you’re a single woman on benefits in the UK, it makes financial sense to have as many children as you can. The government give you a house, that without the child you’d wait at least 10 years for. They give you additional money to care for that child. You’ve no obligation to allow the father access. If you’re taken to court, you can lie about the father and it is up to him to prove they are lies, costing thousands upon thousands of pounds – which a lot of people simply do not have. Especially if they have other children, that they need to support. By the time he’s proven the lie is a lie, the kid doesn’t know him anyway and the mother can say the child doesn’t want access or is scared (probably after a lot of bad mouthing that has happened along the way). Now the government want father’s to pay 1/4 of their salary towards their child, no matter the circumstances. They don’t consider if access has been purposefully withheld or if the father has other financial commitments or how much money the mother is getting from other sources. So have 5 kids to different father’s and you can take home a quarter of each dad’s salary. And if the man doesn’t pay it because he can’t afford it or simply feels discriminated against, they’ll fine him £300, take it directly from his salary or bank and add an extra 20% for their services. It’s crippling and unfair. Women have choices and while some may actively seek involvement from the father but be left with nothing, this is not the case for all. These unfair laws just punish the new family. Everything is geared towards the ‘separated’ mother with no effort to look at the bigger picture. Fathers get no justice. Blanket policies that put everyone in the same bucket is wrong. This country nurtures the worst in people, I’m ashamed to call myself British.
Let’s be equally honest. The only person being irresponsible is a parent who cannot afford to support the children they already have, who then goes on to have more with a new partner. So the lesson here is, don’t have what you can’t afford. If someone wants to be the partner of such a person and think the purse strings are being pinched then they should expect to go out to work full time and if they also want or have kids they should take whatever job they can find to fit in around childcare. Then for good measure, they could try juggling children and work 24/7 with no help whatsoever from their partner and instead of relying on the greater share of their partners income, just get by on 15 % ( number of children dependent ) before they bleat about the benefits or otherwise they think their partners ‘ex’ enjoys or what that person should or should not be doing. They could even suggest their partner get a better job/retrain if they can’t provide or better still ‘go back’ and finish what they started until the kids are 18-19 before they resume their relationship.
Of course the easier option is to hold a partners ‘ex’ responsible for the choices that have been made, particularly when it comes to money. Few, if any, care to mention second wages which fall outside child maintenance calculations yet can double their household income or more. Then there’s the gripe about benefits as though these are being personally paid out to the partners parasitic ex. Unfortunately that’s not the case and everyone else gets the pleasure of picking up that tab. By all means let’s lighten the benefits load by raising child maintenance contributions to 30 % or 15% of ‘total’ household income to better reflect the benefits those children would have enjoyed as a family and also to better reflect how household income is really distributed. With an average cost of raising a child to 21 at £230k how does anyone think that a contribution of 15% addresses even half that amount in most cases. It doesn’t, and as every parent knows within a family, you go short so your kids don’t. That’s why these paltry contributions with an arbitrary threshold are inadequate for most parents with custody not to have to rely on some form of benefit. Instead of falling back on the same old character assassinations to try and prove a point that somehow, someone else is responsible for the choice freely taken to be with someone who already had commitments rather than someone who didn’t, try thinking of the kids involved. What really shines through all the bleating is the complete lack of any concern for them by people who ‘think’ they are ‘fit’ to be parents themselves. Adults have choices – kids don’t. Stop trying to penalise them. You made your bed lie in it.
Great article and about time someone blew the lid on this one. Our children need services that are fit for purpose and the Child Support Agency has failed my son. Single parents are often unable to command the wages they earned before having children, as there is little affordable childcare in this country. Adding insult to injury they then have to cope with ex partners who know they can play the system and a CSA which will tell you not to rely on the money (although strangely, the workers always seem to get their wages). Everyone is taken care of, but the child. Shameful.
Maintenance might cover school clubs, new shoes, a decent winter coat. You might even be able to save up for a holiday. Single parents aren’t asking for the moon, but in the current climate our children can be shortchanged out of the basics any parent should be happy to provide and there isn’t even a whisper. I was told by the CSA that it wasn’t worth chasing my ex- when he first stopped paying. That they liked to let the money add up to an amount worth chasing. Years down the line we have nearly hit £8,000 now that he owes his son and they can’t find him anywhere to claim it. So much for their expertise and my trust in it.
Now they are trying to ‘manage my expectations’ in terms of the money I can hope to see for my son. I feel there should be an enquiry into how many other children have been failed in this way and how many parents got off scott free.
I consider 1/4 of a mans salary is asking for the moon – especially if he is on a lower salary – most single mothers will get government support but a father struggling to meet these tough financial commitments will get no consideration. It is my child that will suffer, not yours when this goes ahead. Once my mortgage is paid and my house hold bills are paid, the his ex is paid, the money left over is what we can spend on our child. The whole system is messed up. At the end of the day, what is left should be split equally between his children. I don’t think any child should suffer and the government needs to do more to be fair. If as a mother you are making a choice not to involve the father in your childs life, I feel that is punishment enough. Unfortunately, it is very easy for mothers to punish a father for the duration of his childs life – not allow access, seek massive payments from the father and now can force him to pay an extra 20% because they don’t feel like coming to an agreement. The ex can punish the father time and time again without any impact on her. She has her son and has no need to be fair or reasonable.