“Children Deserve More” – Child Maintenance Service loopholes deny children the support they deserve

Posted 26 June 2017

Gingerbread’s new report  examines loopholes in the child maintenance system

The child maintenance system is failing to ensure children receive the appropriate level of support they are entitled to, according to a new report by Gingerbread.

‘Children deserve more’ details how, in too many cases, loopholes in the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) mean that non-resident parents are paying a fraction of what they should. The CMS is supposed to calculate and, when necessary, enforce, the payments that children need. But the report argues that recent reforms have instead prioritised administrative convenience over all other concerns. This has led to a situation where desperate parents are repeatedly being let down by a system that seems designed to be as unhelpful and opaque as possible.

In particular, the decision to base the child maintenance calculation on gross taxable earnings or profits as reported to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has had widespread repercussions. One common issue is that paying parents with often considerable assets can end paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income aren’t taken into consideration. In other cases, self-employed parents are able to get away with under-reporting their income in order to reduce their payments.

Ironically, the CMS was set up to replace an ailing predecessor, the Child Services Agency (CSA), which was shut down due to being widely regarded as not-fit-for-purpose. But for a significant minority, the new method of calculating child maintenance is still not working

The new, inadequate method of calculating child maintenance payments is only half the problem. Parents who believe they are receiving less than their children are entitled to frequently complain about being stonewalled by the CMS, or being kept in the dark about their options. Since the calculation is based on HRMC information, single parents often find themselves being passed back and forth between the two organisations, with neither taking responsibility for re-evaluating the calculation.

Gingerbread Director of Policy Dalia Ben-Galim says:

“Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires. But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.”

Gingerbread is calling for the new government to set out a clear strategy for tackling child maintenance avoidance and evasion, including far greater co-ordination between the CMS and HMRC when assessing incomes, and considerably more support for parents who wish to challenge assessments.

3 comments on ““Children Deserve More” – Child Maintenance Service loopholes deny children the support they deserve

  1. Interesting article written from a single sided view. Have you considered in your piece that the changes made now mean that honest employed non resident parents are assessed on their gross income meaning a huge rise in payment levels?
    I am fortunate enough to be given a company car to do the job I am employed to do. This equates to an £8000 tax benefit in my gross earnings meaning I am taxed for the benefit, then have to pay maintenance on a figure which never touched my bank account. Does this seem fair?
    Some income is subjected to 40% tax so again, I lose 40% to the tax man but still get hit to pay on the gross amount, is that fair?
    Like many other NRP’s I wish to support my child and went through the CSA previously on my younger 2. The difference now, and maybe why it stands out to me so much, is that I now pay nearly as much for 1 child as I did for 3! Payment made on nett earnings is a far fairer way of calculating given if still together that would be what is available to the couple as income.
    I am afraid that self-employed NRP’s or higher net worth individuals will always find a way if they so wish to avoid paying, but is it right that the CMS, like the CSA before, continue to punish those of us who wish to play by the rules?
    This is a very dividing subject as emotion runs high on both sides about money, and I can see both sides, the trouble being that if these agencies remain incompetent for both parties then nobody pays or receives what they should and the agency never becomes effective as they have to constantly deal with complaints, reassessments and all round upset people which does not allow for improvement.
    Perhaps Gingerbread should consider that there is 2 sides to this issue and neither are satisfactory. This is not about single Mums and Dads but ensuring children are able to have 2 supportive parents no matter what the circumstances of why they are no longer together and from personal experience these payments are what cause the most arguments from both sides putting the poor children in the middle and often being used as pawns in the financial game of chess that was the CSA and is now the CMS.

    1. I completely agree. The CMS punishes good men, who have always financially provided for their children.

      The CMS takes a percentage of gross income, without taking in to account the tax applied to this income, and the outgoings of the paying parent e.g. mortgage and contact costs.

      The CMS payment simply applies a percentage, it does not consider the cost of a child. In doing so, and in taking a large percentage of income (as the payment as a percentage of net income, is far higher than that of gross), it has a massive financial impact on the paying parent.

      In our situation this high financial cost now means we are unable to afford to do the things we once did (under a family based arrangement), with my husbands daughter. How is this beneficial for his daughter, she is significantly worse off through his ex going to the CMS.

      The CMS puts significant strain on already sour relations between separated couples. This is damaging for the children involved.

    2. I fail to see all the enforments being carried out to non paying parents. If the CMS carried out the so called orders and enforements they state they can on non paying parents children’s wouldn’t be living on a single parent income. My ex partner has been dodging the system for 5yrs with nothing being enforced other than an attachment of earning which his employer doesn’t pay either. They found him to be earning over 1000pw after investigation when he alleged and his employer allege only earning £36pw and he still has not had any enforcement. He has not paid more than £13 in a single month and not paid more than 6 times in a year.

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