CMS enforcement changes welcome, but only scratch the surface

Posted 13 February 2024

On Monday, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed changes that should make it quicker for the Child Maintenance Services (CMS) to instruct bailiffs, confiscate passports or driver’s licences or impose prison sentences in cases where non-resident parents persistently refuse to pay the maintenance they owe. The CMS can already impose these sanctions but need to apply to the courts. The changes will mean the sanctions can be imposed directly, although there will be options for the non resident parent to appeal.

Better enforcement of CMS is not only much needed, but also long overdue, which is why we welcome any changes that could mean children being able to get financial support they need more quickly. This week’s change is a result of a new law brought forward by backbench MP Siobhan Baillie last year. We worked with her and other MPs as the law was developed.

Whilst we welcome the changes, they will do nothing to address the delays in identifying non-payment and using existing other powers to secure payment. The CMS already has significant powers available to it, to deduct money directly from people’s salary or their bank accounts, without going to the courts. However, what we hear from our helpline is that they are slow to react and use these powers when non-resident parents don’t pay.

A lack of enforcement by the CMS means over half a billion pounds is owed to children – as a result, many live in poverty and even more go without.

We believe more fundamental change is needed so that non-payment is identified, but also to address other issues with the CMS, such as how to deal with non-resident parents whose financial situation isn’t fully taken into account in calculations. For example, we regularly hear cases where unearned income, such as from rental properties is not properly accounted for. The Government has previously agreed that this was an issue and committed to addressing it, but have now gone silent on this issue.

Monday’s announcement also highlighted that from the 26th February, the £20 CMS applications fee will be scrapped for all applicants, something which hopefully will encourage more people to apply for a statutory arrangement when one is needed. We have long campaigned on the unfair charges in the system, but would like to see the Government go further and also look at the charges for those who use the ‘Collect and Pay’ service – which is for those non-resident parents who have a history of non-payment. These charges include a deduction from the maintenance payment to the Government before it reaches the parent with care, effectively further penalising children of single parents where the non resident parents consistently don’t pay

Gingerbread is about to start new research into what works and what doesn’t about the CMS and will develop a report later this year with further recommendations on what needs to change. We will look to monitor how these new changes are working as part of the research.