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by Sarah Ashe We all have different goals when it comes to fitness. Some of us exercise because we want to look better, to create the perfect summer body or shed some pounds for a special...
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.