Family & Divorce
Child Maintenance Service Reform
On 2 October 2023, the Government announced that they will be introducing long-term changes to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) system in order to make it fairer to children and parents.
The changes will mean:
- The CMS will be able to use an administrative liability order to recover unpaid child maintenance. Instead of applying to the courts and waiting up to 22 weeks, this change could potentially reduce the wait for further action to around six to eight weeks.
- Removal of the £20 application fee
- Unearned income, such as savings, investments and property income will automatically be considered when the maintenance calculation is made
- Introduction of stronger enforcement powers on non-compliance
The new measures will also give survivors of domestic abuse a choice to allow the CMS to collect and make payments on their behalf, without the consent of an abusive ex- partner. It is also proposed that the CMS will modernise the way in which it communicates with parents by using email and SMS to advise them when a letter has been uploaded online.
In deciding what changes were required, the Work and Pensions Committee compiled a report after taking evidence from both parents who make payments through the service and from those who receive payments. The main concern that receiving parents had was the speed and effectiveness of enforcement and the financial misrepresentation by some parents to reduce maintenance calculations. The main concern that paying parents had was the unaffordability of some maintenance payments which caused parents to experience severe hardship and distress, leading to non-compliance.
In both cases, parents criticized the opening hours, 8am-6pm, of the CMS helpline which made it particularly difficult when parents had work commitments and especially where they would, on every call, deal with a different case worker and have to explain the situation in full multiple times. The CMS have confirmed that it will pilot a scheme where all customers have a named caseworker. This would initially start with parents in abusive situations and eventually progress to cover all parents.
“The changes to the CMS system probably don’t go far enough but our clients will welcome any changes which make the process quicker and fairer. The current wait times for payment orders is unacceptable and if the CMS is able to deliver on the timescales it is predicting, it will, quite rightly, make it much more difficult for some parents to avoid making child maintenance payments and at the same time, ensure the paying parent can actually afford the payments. It will hopefully be a system that works for both parents.”