‘What am I paying for?’: The need to improve the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

Posted 20 January 2022

In December 2021, it was revealed that since the formation of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) in 2012, there has been over £435.9 million in unpaid child maintenance owed through its Collect and Pay service.

Making the Child Maintenance Service Work for Single Parent Families

This was one of the reasons the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Single Parent Families met in January to discuss how the CMS must be improved for the benefit of children of single parent families across the country.

The event, titled ‘Making the Child Maintenance Service Work for Single Parent Families,’ was chaired by Rupa Huq MP with speakers Victoria Benson, CEO of Gingerbread and Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse, as well as Gemma and Yael, two single parents who bravely shared their first-hand experiences of the CMS. APPG Vice-Chair Rosie Duffield MP, Stephen Timms MP, Philip Davies MP, Sally-Ann Hart MP and Peter Bottomley MP were also in attendance and joined the discussion.

> Watch recording of the APPG meeting

Key Points

While the APPG and Gingerbread recognise the importance of the CMS and the need to ensure that parents have a formal way of seeking due maintenance for the upbringing of their children, it is clear that the system needs to urgently improve.

Having heard from many single parents about their frustrating experiences with the CMS, we would like to see it improve in the following ways:

  • Make better use of its enforcement powers

There needs to be much stronger systems and resource dedicated to tackling parents who attempt to avoid or minimise child support payments, and those who do not pay what has been agreed.

  • Introduce fairer Child Maintenance Service (CMS) charges

There is a particular need for this change for parents receiving maintenance, who are unfairly penalised for the child’s other parent’s unwillingness to pay. For example, we believe passionately that the 4% charge for receiving parents using the Collect and Pay service should be removed, as should the initial £20 charge to be enrolled.

  • Improve its customer service and case management

The CMS must improve how it communicates with parents and investigates complaints.​Many single parents with open CMS cases have told us that they have to chase their queries repeatedly and become increasingly frustrated by CMS inaction. We also would like to see better continuity in the service of CMS users as many have described the trauma and stress of having to repeat their stories over and over again to different members of CMS staff.

  • The DWP must be more open about the data it shares about the CMS so that the system is transparent and open to scrutiny.
  • The service must be better attuned to the needs of domestic abuse survivors

New and comprehensive training and a complete review of systems and processes through the lens of economic and domestic abuse is needed if the CMS is to maximise victim-survivor access to the economic resources they need to rebuild their lives safely and raise their children, free from ongoing control.

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