To mark Election Week, we’ve asked single parents to share their experiences of our key proposal policy areas. Our final blog has been written by Victoria, a 38 year-old charity worker based in Manchester and single parent to her three children. Here, she writes about the issues she’s experienced with child maintenance, and her suggestions for what needs to change.
I became a single parent in 2013, when my children were two, eight and thirteen years old. Unable to reach an agreement with my ex-partner on contributing towards raising the children, and with my mortgage and childcare costing the same amount as my monthly wage, I was soon falling into debt to pay for the essential costs of raising my family. Using the Child Support Agency was my only option.
From then on, weekly calls to the Child Support Agency, learning a whole new language and processes, and constant battles to receive child maintenance became my life for the best part of 6 years!
A double injustice
My case was transferred to the Child Maintenance Service in 2014. The new service promised to be better than the Child Support Agency. It decided that to ‘encourage’ parents to cooperate and pay directly, it would introduce a charge for those who used the Collect and Pay service.
For me, that meant when the non-resident parent refused to pay, I had no choice but to use Collect and Pay. Any money I did receive was subject to a deduction fee of 4%. It seemed like a double injustice that I was being penalised for the other parent refusing to pay.
To make matters worse, my ex-partner found a loophole in the system. If you become self-employed, it not only delays being able to have your earnings assessed for 12 months, but you can effectively say you earned nothing and evade paying child maintenance altogether!
It’s then up to the parent with care to find evidence proving the earnings of the non-resident parent. How could anyone possibly find evidence of how much you earn? It’s an impossible ask that leaves you powerless. The loopholes are well-documented, but despite this, they continue to exist.
Luckily, the Gingerbread Helpline was on hand to help me and guided me through mandatory reconsideration and request for a variation. Then, my case was scheduled for tribunal – back then, Gingerbread was able to put me in touch with a volunteer forensic accountant who helped to put together my evidence to win the case. The whole process took over two years!
I was awarded £9,400, but I was soon dismayed to learn I had won nothing as the Child Maintenance Service could only deduct the arrears at £10 per week. I worked out that it would have taken 18 years to pay the arrears. The whole purpose of child maintenance payments is to help contribute to cost of raising your children.
Reforming the CMS
Sadly, I was just one of thousands of single parents across the UK in this situation. The DWP’s latest stats on CMS (published in June 2019) report that there are £293.6 million in unpaid maintenance in the UK, and a third (33%) of non-resident parents not paying anything in CMS payments. This leaves over 100,000 children without payment.
My call to the next government would be reform the child maintenance service:
- Scrap the charge to the parent with care of 4% to ensure every penny received goes to raising their children.
- Close the loopholes that allow self-employed non-resident parents to declare no income and evading paying to support their children.
- Ensure cases of evasion are investigated properly by the CMS rather than expecting the single parents to have to provide evidence.
As people across the UK head to the polling stations today, 12 December 2019, Gingerbread is calling on single parents to make their votes count and ensure single parent families are at the centre of any new government’s approach. Find out how you can make your voice heard.