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Chasing child maintenance payments

If you’re owed child maintenance and are struggling to get paid, this page explains what you can do. It covers getting money directly from the child’s other parent, as well as going through the CMS to collect maintenance owed. 

If you’re responsible for paying maintenance and are struggling to keep up with your payments, Citizens Advice has some useful guidance for paying parents.

What to do if payments stop

What the CMS will do

Tips for getting money you’re owed

If action on your case stops or slows down

You can also use this interactive tool to work out what steps you can take and where to get advice if your child maintenance payments have stopped.

What should I do if payments stop?

The CMS can help you if you’ve made your child maintenance arrangements through their service. If you’ve made your own arrangements with your child’s other parent, talk to them (if you can) to find out why they’ve stopped paying. If you can’t do this, or they refuse to start paying again, the CMS might be able to help. Explain that your private arrangement has broken down and you need them to collect your child maintenance instead.

If you’re using CMS direct pay

Lots of parents use the CMS to pay each other directly – this is called direct pay. This is when the CMS works out how much should be paid, but your child’s other parent pays you without the money going through the CMS.

As soon as your maintenance payments stop, the first thing to do is tell the CMS. They have no way of knowing otherwise. When you tell them, it’s wise to keep a written record of doing this. Keep any emails or letters and make a note of any calls, including who you spoke to and when.

If you’re using CMS collect and pay

If your child’s other parent pays the CMS, which then passes the money to you, the CMS should know straight away when payments stop. It might be a good idea to get in touch with the CMS to find out what they’re doing about this.

What the CMS will do

The CMS has several options for chasing maintenance payments. They’ll decide how best to do this depending on the other parent’s circumstances. 

First, the CMS will ask your child’s other parent why payments have stopped. The other parent may restart payments and agree to pay you what they already owe.

If the other parent doesn’t respond to the CMS’s attempts to get in touch, or doesn’t pay what they owe, the CMS will take action

  • If you’re using direct pay, the CMS might move you to collect and pay so they can get the money for you. There is a charge for this, and you’ll get slightly less money. You can find out more about CMS charges on our page on using the CMS.
  • If you’ve been using collect and pay, the CMS will usually try to get your child’s other parent to start paying regularly again and also to pay what they owe.

If this doesn’t work, the CMS will take steps to get the money the other parent owes. 

How the CMS can chase payment

Here are some of the options that the CMS has for chasing payment – these are called enforcement powers. 

Taking money from earnings If the other parent is an employee, the CMS can take maintenance directly from their earnings through their employer. This can cover the usual payments as well as money they already owe.

There are charges for this – the paying parent might have to pay £50 to the CMS and up to £1 to their employer every time money is taken from their wages. 

Taking money from benefits


The CMS can take up to £8.40 a week (a £7 payment for you, plus their collection fee) from the other parent’s benefits to pay ongoing maintenance. But they can’t collect money the other parent owes from their benefits while they’re taking ongoing maintenance payments. If you think the CMS should be collecting the money owed in another way, speak to them about this.
Regular deduction  This is when the CMS takes a regular fixed amount directly from the other parent’s bank/building society account without the other parent’s permission. This can include the usual payments or the money they owe, or both. 

They can either take a lump sum to clear the money owed or set up regular payments. This is useful if your child’s other parent is self-employed and money can’t be taken from their wages.

There are charges for this – the paying parent might have to pay £50 on top of the money that’s being taken.

Lump sum deduction  The CMS can freeze the other parent’s bank or building society account and then take all the money that’s owed from there. They’ll take an additional £200 in fees.
Liability Order The CMS can apply to the court to have the money owed legally recognised. This opens the door to the actions listed below. They’ll charge the other parent a £300 fee for this. 
Referral to a credit reference agency The CMS can share information about the legally recognised maintenance debt with a credit reference agency. This can damage the paying parent’s credit rating and make it hard for them to get loans, mortgages and other types of credit.
Bailiffs The CMS can hand over the debt to a bailiff company. They have the right to take the other parent’s belongings and sell them to recover the money.
Charging Orders and Orders for Sale  If your child’s other parent owns their home, the CMS can apply to the County Court for a Charging Order to secure the debt to this property. They can then get an Order for Sale to sell the property and take the money the paying parent owes from the sale.
Committal Action This action in a magistrates’ court can lead to an actual or suspended prison sentence, an actual or suspended disqualification from driving, or an order to pay the money owed.


Note: The Child Support Agency (CSA) was replaced by the CMS in 2012. But if you’re still owed money from a CSA case, you might be able to try one last time to get this paid, depending on how much you’re owed and from when. Call our helpline for advice.

Tips for getting money you’re owed

Be prepared and realistic

Chasing child maintenance payments can be frustrating and stressful. Not only will you have to rely on the CMS, but some parents will go to great lengths to avoid paying and others just don’t have the money to pay.

The key is to understand how things work, be very persistent, give the CMS as much information as you can and use their complaints procedure if things are handled badly. Unfortunately, you might have to accept that you’re not going to get all the money you’re owed.

Keep a record of all contact with the CMS

Keeping a note of everything you’ve done will help you talk to the right people the next time you call or email. It might also be useful if you want to complain or get your MP to take things up for you. So try to keep your emails and letters and make a note of all your calls, including who you spoke to and when. If the CMS promises to do something within a certain time, make a note of this and remind them if they don’t.

Check how much you’re owed

Double check with the CMS how much you’re actually owed. They should try to make sure you’re paid what you’re owed first. 

You might be owed money because the other parent didn’t give enough or the right information. So the CMS might have made an estimate based on the information it had at the time. If the other parent then gives the right information, they’ll recalculate the amount that should be paid. If this is more, you’ll be owed money.

Consider a new agreement to resolve things

To resolve things, you could agree with the other parent that you’ll accept less than you’re owed. This would mean you’re writing off the rest of the debt and won’t be able to chase for it later. This is your decision and the CMS should accept it. Try to think of all the pros and cons before agreeing to an arrangement like this. For example, getting a lump sum payment might affect your benefits and tax credits, so always check this first.

If the CMS slows down or stops chasing your debt

There are various reasons why things could slow down or come to a stop.

The CMS can’t find your child’s other parent

The CMS will stop chasing if it can’t track down the other parent. It will do all it can – for example, looking at information held by government departments and organisations. But they won’t be able to do anything if they can’t find the other parent.

If you have any information about where this person is, tell the CMS. If you think the CMS hasn’t done enough to find them, you can complain – see our page on using the CMS for how.

The other parent says thay can’t pay

The CMS might stop chasing if the other parent hasn’t been working. If you think they’re working again or want the CMS to check, speak to them.

If you have new information about the other parent’s financial position, you can also give this to the CMS. 

For example, you might know that they used to have 2 jobs, or worked cash-in-hand, or were paid a big bonus at the end of the year. You might know they were earning more when you lived together and think they still earn this much or more. You might have papers that show details of their income and assets.

If you think the other parent has been working cash-in-hand or has self-employed earnings, you could look on trade or social networking sites to try to find evidence. They might have set up a limited company and be paid in dividends as well as earnings. Dividends aren’t usually included in a child maintenance calculation, but you can challenge this and ask the CMS to recalculate your child maintenance to reflect this.

If you want extra information about the other parent’s finances to be taken into account, you can ask the CMS for a ‘variation’. To find out more about getting a variation, see our page on challenging a CMS calculation.

If you think nothing is happening

If you can’t see anything happening with your case or you haven’t had a good enough explanation about why things have stopped, you might want to make a complaint.

You can:

  • Complain to the team handling your case and explain why you’re not happy – they’ll try to get back to you within 15 working days.
  • Take things to the Complaints Review Team if you’re not satisfied with the initial response. Citizens Advice has more on complaining to the CMS
  • Share a copy of your email or letter to the CMS with your MP – it can sometimes speed things up if the CMS knows you’ve done this. 

Citizens Advice has detailed information on complaining to the CMS.

Date last updated: 18 May 2023

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