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Children set to lose out as government confirms child maintenance charges

06 November 2013
The government has confirmed that it intends to deduct a proportion of child maintenance from families who need to use the new child maintenance collection service.

Gingerbread is strongly opposed to the charges for single parent families which will see children lose out on 4% of their maintenance, or an average of more than £70 per year [1], if collected by the new Child Maintenance Service. The planned charges have been confirmed in today’s full DWP response to its consultation on child maintenance charges and case closure and will be voted on in parliament later this year [2].

The government says the 4% collection charge for single parent families, as well as a 20% charge for the paying parent if they won’t pay voluntarily, will act as an incentive to both parents to collaborate and arrange maintenance payments between themselves. However, the 4% charge will only be applied in cases where the Child Maintenance Service itself decides that the non-resident parent is unlikely to pay maintenance, and collection is needed. Gingerbread argues that this means single parent families will be punished for the other parent’s failure to pay.

The DWP’s own survey evidence [3] acts as a reality check on the chances of many single parents being able to come to an agreement over money for their children with the ‘paying’ parent. Of almost a thousand parents who applied to the Child Support Agency (CSA), six in ten (59%) were not in contact with the child’s other parent or were not at all friendly; a third (33%) had already tried a private arrangement that had failed; and half (50%) had experienced violence or abuse at the hands of their child’s other parent.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: “Child maintenance makes a huge difference to children’s lives, especially when many families are struggling to pay for the basics at the moment.  The risk is that the charges, combined with the closure of all CSA cases, will result in tens of thousands of families giving up on maintenance altogether and their children going without vital support.”

The government’s own impact assessment has predicted that 100,000 parents who are due to receive maintenance via the CSA will abandon pursuing child maintenance in the face of the initial application fees alone [4].
Fiona Weir added: “Single parents are under immense financial pressure, with rising living costs and falling incomes. For many the £20 application fee alone will prove an insurmountable barrier to their children getting the financial support they deserve.”

The new Child Maintenance Service has already begun to take on new applicants, but is not imposing charges until it is dealing with all new applicants and is judged to be working well. Once parliamentary approval to charges and case closure has been given, the new Child Maintenance Service will then begin to close all one million existing CSA cases.  Single parents who need support from the new service to secure maintenance for their children will have to reapply and will pay charges.

ENDS

Notes to editors
[1] On average, children whose parents have to use the new child maintenance collection service will lose out on £70.30 of maintenance a year as a result of the charges, which come on top of an initial £20 application fee. £70.30 is based on latest figures of the average amount of maintenance received via the CSA (£33.80) a week.
[2] Government response to the consultation: Supporting separated families: securing children’s futures, 5 November 2013
[3] CSA case closure and charging client surveys - tabulation of results at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2012/childrens-futures.shtml
[4] Impact Assessment – Child maintenance reforms: case closure, charging, supporting family-based arrangements, 2012

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