A child has a legal right to be supported financially by both their parents, and the government must help parents to uphold that right. Child maintenance (sometimes referred to as ‘child support’) is vital for separated families and the well-being of children – particularly single parent families.
Child support helps with the costs of raising a child – from the day-to-day expenses of food, clothing and school expenses, to the costs of running a child’s main home and giving a child a decent quality of life.
Child maintenance arrangements can take different forms – they can be made privately, between separated parents, through the government-run Child Maintenance Service or (more rarely), through a court order. The statutory child maintenance system has seen big reforms, but there are still concerns over its effectiveness.
- Academic research has found that in the UK, for children of single parents, who are both in poverty and not receiving maintenance, child maintenance payments actually being received would lift them out of poverty in around 60% of all cases. (i)
- However, over £474 million has gone unpaid on CMS – money that is owed to children. (ii)
- Non-compliance within child maintenance is by no means a new phenomenon: there is still £2.5 billion of Child Support Agency ‘legacy debt’ owed to parents, representing approximately 970,000 individual cases (iii)
- Of this, DWP estimate as much as £1.9 billion will be written off (iv)
Gingerbread strongly believes that, even though parents may live apart, their shared responsibilities towards their children continue. Above all, Gingerbread wants to see children in separated families benefit from effective child support – regular payments, in full and on time – whatever form that arrangement takes.
If a parent is not willing to fulfill their financial responsibility, the government must step in to uphold parents’ duty to maintain their children. Gingerbread believes the Child Maintenance Service must be improved to ensure fairer access to child support and a zero tolerance approach to not paying child support.
Our goals for change
Gingerbread has a longstanding goal to help ensure there is an effective child maintenance system, so children are not financially disadvantaged by parents separating.
We want to see better promotion of the importance of child support for children’s well-being, and the support available to make arrangements – parents should feel supported to make whatever arrangements work best to ensure proper financial support for their children.
Gingerbread wants a fairer statutory system, and is calling for:
- Fairer Child Maintenance Service charges – particularly for parents receiving maintenance, who are unfairly penalised for the child’s other parent’s unwillingness to pay. For instance, the 4% charge for receiving parents using the Collect and Pay service should be removed, as should the initial £20 charge to be enrolled onto Collect and Pay
- An improved service for survivors of domestic abuse
- 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
- Greater usage of the enforcement mechanisms available to the Child Maintenance Service so that children receive the payments they deserve
- Improve data sharing so the system is transparent and open to scrutiny
- Better customer service and case management
i. 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
ii. DWP (2022) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to March 2022.
iii. Department for Work and Pensions (2017) Child Maintenance: A New Compliance and Arrears Strategy – Public Consultation.
iv. House of Commons (2019) Child maintenance: the multi-billion pound write-off of arrears on Child Support Agency cases – Briefing Paper.
Statistics last updated July 2022.