Alone – Natalie’s #FixTheCMS story

Posted 28 July 2020

Natalie is one of the claimants for our #FixTheCMS legal challenge. Natalie is a single parent and former journalist who has used CMS for her two sons since 2015. She started off getting regular payment but that stopped in 2017, in which around £5000 in arrears built up. After switching to Collect and Pay, payments stopped altogether in October. She has since been told her case has been taken away from the enforcement team.


Of all the words that came to mind, this one summed up my feelings about dealing with the Child Maintenance Service.

A faceless organisation set up, supposedly, to help children like mine.

For those in the system, it’s a terrifying double blow – a one-two punch that leaves you with nowhere to turn.

No choices, no rights, no options.

The first right hook is the horrific failure of a paying parent to provide adequate (or in far, far too many cases, any) maintenance payments to their kids – a financial responsibility which, let’s not forget, is not only a moral duty but also a legal one.

The second sucker punch comes direct from the CMS. An organisation whose only existence is to support those trying to access maintenance and for those enduring economic abuse.

Find out more about our #FixTheCMS legal challenge, and how you can help, here.

Unfortunately, instead of helping us access the vital funds our children are entitled to, it actually allows payments to remain uncollected, enforcement action not actioned and arrears ever-spiralling.

It leaves you feeling what can only be described as a bizarre combination of numbness, anger and sheer disbelief.

To say dealing with them is like going into battle is something I think only others in my situation could comprehend – it is a no-win war which leaves you scarred and hopeless.

To have to steel yourself before calling them. To know that, even prior to coronavirus, the average phone call took a minimum of 40 minutes on hold before being answered.

To have crucial questions that are rarely answered (“I can’t tell you that” or “I don’t know” being common responses).

To be sent paperwork in waves (letters arriving day after day, always contradicting themselves), or, in complete contrast, hardly ever (not hearing anything for months on end, one season to the next).

To feel like you need to take a crash course in forensic accountancy to understand what they are even talking about.

To send messages via the online system only to be told they’ll get back to you in 12 weeks, or, if you are super lucky, to receive a generic response which is nothing more than a waste of postage and the paper it’s printed on.

To have rules, like the four per cent fee imposed on children in Collect & Pay cases, that beggar belief.

And my absolute favourite…

To be told countless times that they won’t do something because the outcome would only mean a “couple of pounds” more being added to the maintenance calculation – an attitude which tells you very clearly that CMS staff have no comprehension or empathy with the appalling hand-to-mouth existence many are living in.

After five very long, very depressing years, I decided quite simply that the CMS employs tactics designed to make us give up, to make us walk away.

Single parents are among the most time-poor individuals on the planet. We are mum and dad combined. No sharing it out, no respite, no time off. Constant, never-ending responsibility. We do it all. Every duty, chore and task falls solely and squarely on our shoulders.

Add in a bureaucratic institution filled with non-transparent rules and regulations (that I’m not even sure its own staff understand) and it’s hardly surprising that many single parents simply give up.

How do I know they give up? Because I have, on countless occasions.

The stress and anxiety (actually, if you’re in this boat you’ll know all too well it’s lay-in-bed-every-night-unable-to-sleep fear) caused by the failures of the CMS eats at your very soul.

Will we lose our home? How can I feed my children? These are nightmares no parent should ever face.

To say I’ve frequently felt like banging my head against a brick wall is an understatement when it comes to the horror of having the CMS in my life.

Promises are made by the CMS. Promises are broken. Time is wasted chasing and literally pleading with them to do something – to do ANYTHING.

It’s a relentless Groundhog Day grind that, for the sake of your own sanity, means sometimes you simply have to step away before it breaks you.

It destroys your rights as a human being, as a parent and worst of all, the rights of your children.

Thousands and thousands of families unable to breathe, unable to make choices, unable to live our lives. Forced into poverty and debt.

Children missing out on the most basic elements of life across the length and breadth of this country because they are not getting the essential financial support that is rightfully theirs.

But, I am not alone and neither are you.

For years, Gingerbread has fought tooth and nail to bring this national scandal to an end and, as one of the four claimants in the legal challenge to #FixTheCMS, I finally have a different word in mind now – hope.

We believe that children should be supported by both their parents. Children should be able to be fed and clothed without their single parents being forced to use food banks, take out credit or rely on the generosity of other people. If you agree, sign our pledge to #FixTheCMS.

18 comments on “Alone – Natalie’s #FixTheCMS story

  1. Natalie, I mirror everything you have said. I hope you have the strength to continue your fight. Keep going for your children. I thank those supporting this challenge (Gingerbread etc) because the Secretary of State needs to be held to account for the fundamental failure of the system designed to protect our children. The problems are not only with enforcement but also with calculation. The most vulnerable in society are being left to suffer which is perpetuated by the very same system designed to protect them.

    1. Hi Natalie,

      Agree with everything you’ve said and thank you for fighting.

      I left my ex-h over 7 years ago, following years of emotional and financial abuse and started again with very little. I’d started building myself and the kids up financially although I was careful with money – there weren’t many treats or holidays, it felt good to be be back in control of my finances (having not had access to my own bank account. For a long time in the marriage, I was the major wage earner, paid the deposit on our first house and constantly re-paid ex-h’s debts. But took several years out prior to leaving him as my eldest was under GOSH, acutely unwell and required round the clock care. When she got the all clear, I got a job and filed for divorce and bought a house for me and the kids. (I got a small amount from the ex-marital home and started again.)

      Despite periods of non-payment of maintenance under a Court Order I coped…. until I had a period of illness and left my job with simultaneous non-payment of maintenance. Eventually I went to a solicitor to request that a letter before action be issued ahead of seeking enforcement of the court order. The loop hole in the law is that they are able to apply to the CMS and upon application the provision in the court order becomes null and void and enforcement no longer an option.

      Ex-h despite earning a 6 figure salary is self-employed and hence pays himself a small salary plus large dividend. I told the CMS this immediately who said that they could ask HMRC for his “other income” figure. They didn’t for a further 6 months and only at the behest of my MP. So I was entitled to maintenance based on anincome of circa £8k rather than the 20x that figure that he earns.

      6 months later they calculate on his actual (accountant disclosed) salary. But despite the fact that I’ve by then missed a mortgage payment he gets another 12 months to pay off the arrears. (He lied and their mistake but that is how their computer works 🤣)

      He then misses payments, he then asks for re-calculations – they can’t enforce etc etc. CMS response is “not to rely on maintenance”.

      The last three years have been so difficult financially- I’m back in work full-time, well again and finally able to focus on the kids without constantly worrying how I’m going to put food on the table. But I’ve only got there in the past month.

      I’ve given up on maintenance and had given up on the CMS until a statement saying that I owed him two months ago. And since multiple letters from them daily-each contradictory, none of them make sense and I know that there is no way that they could enforce any payment for
      Him. I have no idea from their letters how much he is meant to be paying; hence, I’m not sure a judge would enforce payment!

      My real upset with the CMS is that I left abuse (as I know many others do) and yet the system and rules that work under enable financial abuse to continue.

      I started again and kept going and built myself up again. Despite my then illness at the point the CMS entered my life I had a credit rating of 980, owned my home and had a good payment history.

      Following the CMS, my credit score dropped to 300, I had a possession order, defaults and missed payments but with no ability to do anything myself – I had no rights to do or enforce anything.

      I believe in positive thinking and am lucky that I’ve picked myself up but… the damage enabled by the CMS will take years to overcome financially and it’s taken a lot of energy that I would rather have spent focusing on my children and happy times with them.

      I hope that the law and system is changed so that there is help rather than the fight that it is currently.

  2. Complexity agree and have experienced this myself. Five years of waiting and never had a penny

  3. Thank you for sharing this . I find it so hard to comprehend that our government is allowing this to happen. Which then makes me question why ? I am a single parent who has been fighting hard to get maintenance for my daughter over the years. I will not give up. I have shed many tears of frustration with listening to the inadequate excuses from the CMS. Our children need us to keep fighting for them. This is a form of child abuse from the NRP. They do not go without. Yet they think It is OK that their own flesh and blood can live on fresh air. So why is this allowed ? Why in this day and age is it so incredibly hard for us parents to get justice for our children?

  4. What a humbling read; thank you to you, Gingerbread and the other claimants and supporters for legally pursuing this nationwide statutory failure.
    I have just had a Parliamentary petition published, if anyone could please also sign and share this it would be fantastic.
    It’s another way that constituents of this country can increase the public awareness of these despicable failures.

      **Reform child maintenance support from self-employed non-resident parents**

      This should include utilising all data available, including CIS RTI data, to verify and check declared self-assessment gross profit figures, and implementing measures to collect accrued debt for repeated and persistent non-payment cases at source, such as from SA tax refunds.

      Child maintenance needs to be treated in the same way as tax and not seen as a benefit, to ensure more children receive the correct financial support they are legally entitled to.

  5. 2008 I applied
    £35,000 I am owed
    7 outstanding Court liability orders ,cms ” closed”
    Non paying NRP ..has worked full time the entire time.
    I have been fobbed off the entire time
    I was lied to
    My child was robbed
    My anxeity is now permanent
    I have heard nothing in months
    NRP knows being self employed equals a free pass
    My child has severe disabilities
    My child was failed
    I was failed

    In 2013 the conservatives announced a crack down on non payers
    This was a lie , printed in all the papers

    I belive CMS / govt should compensate all those they promised they will help, when they had no intention of doing so , particularly in ” gey areas” areas they ” have no powers ”

    Grey areas : Self employed non payers

    Can not access self employed business accounts
    Can not access joint accounts
    Can not find somone living in and trading the same town since 2013
    Can not ring elusive self employed , pose as customers in order to secure a face to face to enforce
    Can not explain lost calculations
    Can not advise PWC
    But can advise non payer to repeatedly apply for JSA
    Can not even take the legal % owed from JSA
    Can not show competency or knowledge

    My full case is available to any solicitor prepared to take them on

    My story is available to any journalist willing to write the truth

    I have all the evidence

    1. Also have a self employed ex who owns numerous properties. I have played detective and provided details of his companies (he has many and closes and reopens them frequently) and have given details of his work contracts but to no avail. I fought to have the case looked at by the Financial Investigation Unit (twice) and they were able to trace earnings and bank accounts and amend the maintenance calculation yet still, after 11 years of fighting I now have arrears of over £87,000 they still cannot enforce and I still have no payments.

      I have a disabled child and can only work part time around his care needs so live effectively on tax credits. My ex was controlling in our relationship and uses this money to continue that control he also refuses to see my son in an attempt to punish me.

      How the law allows these people to get away with this behaviour is beyond comprehension and I am so grateful someone is finally taking action. Thank you!

    1. Your words speak for the voices of thousands of us and our children. For all the children who’s lives and childhoods are affected daily by this. For all the PWC who are left battling not only their ex partners but the system that was supposed to be there to help .
      My case opened in 2007 and still even now 13 years later, hes cheating our children , still cheating the system and still getting away with it.
      31 companies he has been involved in or owned ( a few his new wife’s name) but claims he has never earned anything from them?
      One year claiming he earned less than £6000 yet has a mortgage , 2 cars and three children with his new wife? Why isnt this questioned ?
      Why are they allowed to Neglect/Abuse their children like they do year after year?
      Thank you for what you are doing for all the children that have been failed so badly.

    2. My experience also echoes Natalie’s. It’s heartbreaking to read so many stories of full time care givers, mostly mothers suffering and the paying parent gets away with not paying and the consequences they say are there – really aren’t.

      Two years down the line I’m £4000 in arrears and my ex knows he can pretty much do what he likes, there was financial abuse within my relationship and I feel like I’m still trapped, he continues his abuse and I have no voice or a means to stop him. CMS tie us up in overly complicated policies and processes which I don’t think their staff even know what they mean. Every time I speak to someone it contradicts the last message.

      Natalie is right, the only way to move on is to stop, but how can we stop fighting for what are children deserve? It’s an impossible win, and if we don’t get up – it looks like CMS most likely will.

      1. Reading this makes me weep as I remember the fury and frustration I also experienced dealing with the CMS. The 40 minute wait to get through on the phone – time snatched from the kids and in my case often spent hiding behind the kitchen door not wishing them to walk in and hear me say their father won’t help them. Then to get through to someone who ‘doesn’t know’ . Inscrutable letters that amount to nothing.
        I’m currently in the ‘given up’ stage though perhaps I’ll get some more energy for one last attempt at fairness before my third child grows up.
        I’ve been fighting this battle for six years and during this time two of my children have grown up without the support they deserved.
        I gave up a year ago because the energy it took to keep fighting was draining me. The fury was eating me up. And there was nowhere to turn. No one who would listen. It feels as though society closes its ears to single parents. I felt shut out as it was – ashamed to be asking for my children’s rights. People already think you are moaning and complaining if you dare speak out against an ex. It takes considerable courage to stand up and ask for help – only to be beaten down by inefficiency.
        I hope this legal challenge brings about a much needed change and that single moms like me are supported legally in the future.

  6. My heart goes out to all of you and thank you for commenting, it helps me to know I’m not alone. I have received barely a penny for the last 10 years. The debt we are owed stands at £15,000. Even that is based on his lies – another ‘unofficially self employed’ / ‘unofficially employed’ NRP. It was proved he was diverting his income, that he had lied to the CSA and the CMS but no one does anything. Every night I worry about the bigger debt hole I am eating myself in to purely to keep the show on the road, that’s without holidays, the extra nice things it would be to do. I have a bank loan & credit card bills to cover. Even though it’s proved to be financial abuse and deliberate avoidance of paying maintenance there is no consequence, no interest owed. And no sign of the money coming in. It’s taken years and months of my time in phone calls, screaming, crying to get court orders. Now Covid has happened and it’s another reason not to pay and no sight of bailiffs being back in action. If that ever even works. They agreed £40 a month off the debt. I’ll be dead before it ever gets paid. I loose out but our daughter misses out more. The CMS are stuck with appalling legislation and the government don’t care. It is too easy for fathers like this to avoid paying.

  7. I feel so sad to read that so many are going through the same thing as me. I’m owed £5500 and CMS do very little to help. It’s sad that so many children are losing out because CMS won’t investigate 1. Non paying parents and 2. Self employed Dads. I really hope the government step in and crack down on this.

    1. I too have had nearly 7 years of arrears from a nrp who works overseas earning inordinate amounts of money he refuses to pay uk tax on then has the audacity to come back to the uk and claim uk universal credit. He keeps his accounts overseas to avoid paying.
      The bailiffs are curreny getting a small amount each month towards arrears, but is assessed now going forward as owing £6 per week. Controlling person and terrible father. Keep trying folks. Try remo if overseas and appeal wrong cms decisions to get it to a judge who has more powers.

      1. I went through remo . The father is in Poland he has a business registered at the address he gave me for contact when he went back home 3 years ago. I went to cms in November 2018 and applied for remo they contacted me in March last year saying they had been in touch with him , his businesswas registered at that address but it wasn’t making money and he didn’t reside there ( he does he has nowhere else to go) he also closes his business and opens it again when he wants to . i have just recieved a letter from remo dated October 2020 saying they have closed the case in Poland they cant find him , i recieved the letter yesterday 9/6/2021. I am not giving up .

  8. I have been divorced from my ex husband for over 10 years, we have 2 children and approx 4 years ago my ex stopped paying maintenance saying he couldn’t afford to!!! He is very manipulative and at the beginning I kept giving him the benefit of the doubt. We have not spoken since Xmas but he does still see our youngest son. I have been told to contact CMS as this is the only way to get him to pay maintenance but after reading a lot of people’s reviews and their own story’s I’m thinking I won’t bother.

    It’s going to cause more arguments between me and my ex which I dont think I can handle, all these years on and we are still arguing! He left but still won’t let me get on with my life. If nothing is going to come of me contacting the CMS then I don’t see the point of me going through it all. He is self employed and reading other people’s struggles I can’t see him paying a penny!,,,,

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published.