Child Support Enforcement Bill gains Royal Assent, but will much change for single parents?

Posted 21 July 2023

The Child Support Enforcement Bill has successfully passed through Parliament, strengthening the enforcement powers of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) against non-paying parents. However, with total arrears sitting at £547.9 million, will it effectively tackle non-compliance?

Under previous legislation, when a non-resident parent failed to fulfil their maintenance obligation, the CMS could attempt to recover the missing payments via direct deductions from their earnings or bank account.

Where these methods proved ineffective or inappropriate, the CMS had to apply to Court to obtain a liability order before being able to use more stringent enforcement actions, such as driving disqualifications, passport suspensions, assets seizures and prison sentences.

However, this was a time-consuming process, in many cases taking months before such actions could be used, which allowed arrears to continue to build and left children without necessary financial support.

The Bill, which removes the extra step between the CMS and the Court, allows for enforcement actions to be used more swiftly against non-compliant parents and could get owed money to children more quickly.

Improved enforcement can reduce child poverty

When child maintenance is correctly paid it can make a significant difference to the lives of children in single parent households. Single parents often experience financial precarity, and the increasing cost of living is pulling more families below the breadline.

Indeed, new data shows that 44% of children in single parent households were in poverty in 2020/21, compared with just 25% of children in couple parent families. And over a quarter of these children lived in households where the parent was working.[1]

The non-payment of maintenance is a key driver of child poverty. If all maintenance due was paid, 60% of children of single parents, who are currently not benefiting from payments, would be lifted out of poverty.[2]

As such, Gingerbread welcomes the improved enforcement efforts by the CMS as a positive step forward for single parent families.

Further reform is needed

However, the Bill may only go so far in reducing maintenance arrears due to the quantity owed and the speed of their accumulation.

In the financial quarter to March 2023, 140,000 children of the 910,000 covered by the CMS received no maintenance at all. In this period, the CMS was successful in recovering £300,000 in owed maintenance with a sanctions action in process. Yet, at the same time, a worrying £22.9 million in arrears had accrued via Collect and Pay.

More worryingly, as the CMS does not monitor compliance for those on Direct Pay or with less formal arrangements, it’s likely that non-compliance figures are just the tip of the iceberg and there are even more children not being given the money that is owed to them. And it is estimated that CMS arrears will reach £1 billion by 2031, if they continue to grow at the current rate.[3]

Therefore, Gingerbread is calling on the Government to go one step further and help children of single parents grow up in financial security by making a firm commitment to reducing maintenance arrears. We are also calling on the Government to act on its pledge to scrap the 4% charge on Collect & Pay payments for domestic abuse survivors.

To support our work on the CMS, please:

  • Sign up to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the CMS’ mailing list to hear about future meeting and help us raise awareness of the processes and powers of the Child Maintenance Service. Email:


  • Write to your MP asking them to meet with Gingerbread to find out more about the challenges that single parents face and the policy that can improve their lives. Meetings can be scheduled in their constituency, in Parliament or at Autumn’s Party Conferences by emailing

[1] Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University, Local indicators of child poverty after housing costs, 2021/22, 2023

[2] Hakovirta et al (2019) Child Poverty, Child Maintenance and Interactions with Social Assistance Benefits among Lone Parent Families: A Comparative Analysis. Journal of Social Policy. pp. 19-39. ISSN 1469-7823

[3] National Audit Office, Child maintenance report, 2022