Child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy: Gingerbread consultation response
Published on 8 February 2018
The government’s draft strategy has welcome proposals, but lacks strategic intent. There are signs that the Department for Work and Pensions is listening to concerns that Gingerbread has raised about loopholes which allow some parents to pay far less child maintenance than they should.
But there’s little detail on what has been learnt on tackling unpaid maintenance since the 2012-2017 strategy, and new approaches taken as a result. There is a risk that there won’t be the step-change in enforcement action needed to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to non-payment.
- The strategy ignores whether charges and the use of Direct Pay are really encouraging ‘collaboration’ and ‘compliance’
- Further enforcement powers are welcome but, to achieve real impact, the DWP must ensure more rigorous use of existing powers supported by appropriate expertise
- The DWP must review the interface between Direct Pay and Collect and Pay to ensure enforcement action is not delayed
- The DWP must look again at tools to change behaviour and encourage a ‘paying culture’ – avoiding alienating paying parents and preventing non-compliance
- The DWP can use its apparent links between child maintenance and parental support to pilot genuinely supportive programmes for separating couples, to encourage child maintenance payment and a ‘paying culture’.
- Reforms are welcome – particularly a return to an assets variation and a strengthened Financial Investigation Unit – which Gingerbread has strongly advocated, though gaps still remain
- The DWP must also overhaul communication to clarify parents’ options to challenge maintenance calculations
- The DWP should also commit to reviewing how the CS3 calculation for low income paying parents in particular once the CMS is in steady state, to ensure fairness on both sides.
- Despite limited resources, the DWP must recognise and take responsibility for its past failings by putting more resource into avenues of redress for parents with arrears-only cases under the CSA (eg compensation and court access) and provide an apology owed to parents on both sides.