It’s sad child maintenance has to exist

Posted 5 October 2017

I was 27 when I met my son’s father. We were together for five years. I knew he had three other children, but his excuses were pretty good about not seeing them. Now I have learned that he was the problem, not them. He left when I was pregnant and told me he didn’t need to give me money because I was so good with money. I had hope in my heart that there was no way I could be with a man who would walk away from their child. That carried me through until my son was a year and a half, and I realised I didn’t know my ex at all.

So, I got in contact with the Child Support Agency (CSA). I was on the phone with them virtually every week until, six months later, they had him in court. During that time they had lost my paper work twice, but a man I spoke to said this was the quickest turn around for a new claim he had seen. He said that my dogged determination had been what had got us there so fast, normally arrears are much bigger before cases go to court.

I’ve had a constant battle with the CSA to obtain accurate and regular child maintenance for our son. For the first two years, the CSA tried to sort things with my son’s father. This does leave you angry and deflated because you still need to survive and any money would be a help. There were court cases, but he didn’t seem to heed the warnings. That was so frustrating. By the third year, they got in contact with him but he said he wasn’t working so he paid £20 per month, sporadically. Then he was told he had £10,000 in arrears so again, some months he paid, others he didn’t. I had no way of knowing whether I would receive the money or not. I also had medical problems at the time so I was unable to work.

Then nearly two years ago, he finally sent the CSA his tax records and was told: ‘‘pay up or we will go straight to your employer’’ (he was self-employed before that). So since then I have been paid £40 a week and £10 arrears.

I asked for the arrears to be resolved before the new child maintenance service (CMS) was set up, but they were scared to rock the boat in case he stopped paying.

In June this year, I received my letter to say my case was closing and I would need to move onto the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). It made me panic. I had three options.:

• Contact him and sort it between us, but if he didn’t pay every month you can’t do anything about it. Given his track record, it was likely that he wouldn’t pay using this option – it simply wasn’t good enough

• Pay a £20 fee to have them collect the maintenance from him and pay it direct to me. With this option I would have to chase up any time he doesn’t pay

• There’s a third option if he doesn’t pay, when they take the money from his earnings. But they add a 20 per cent charge to his payments, and my son’s maintenance also loses four per cent taken in fees. Moreover, this third “collect and pay” option doesn’t last for ever. He will be given another chance to pay direct, if he plays ball for six months and they decide he’s learned his lesson. Then we start all over again.

I know that not everyone is happy with the CSA and the now CMS, but without them, my son would not have had a penny. And there have been three children before mine who got nothing. I feel like it is money that I would never had had. Even if I pay the four per cent fee, at least I get something.

My son has nothing from his father, which he finds hard enough to deal with. At least if there is some money for my child to get a treat or pay towards something he needs for his basic living, then I’m grateful.