Gingerbread supports legal action against the DWP to address critical failings of the Child Maintenance Service

Posted 24 June 2020

Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, is partnering with Mumsnet and the Good Law Project (GLP) to support four women who have sent a Letter Before Claim to notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of their intention to seek a Judicial Review due to:

“…the persistent failure by the Child Maintenance Service to collect child maintenance payments from absent parents leaving the parent with primary care of the children in financial difficulty and in some cases in poverty.”

Child maintenance is the money a non-resident parent should pay to support their child’s upbringing. There are many ways in which separated parents can agree child maintenance payments. Many go through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and use either the Direct Pay or Collect and Pay service. Over 700,000 children are covered by these arrangements. However, failings of the CMS, mean that there is currently £354m in arrears owed to children.[1]

This isn’t a new problem, the Child Support Agency (CSA), which was replaced by the CMS in 2012, also failed to ensure maintenance was paid and between the CSA and CMS over £4bn of maintenance payments have gone unpaid.[2] The Letter Before Claim lays bare the systemic failures within the CMS:

  • Around a third (43%) of children covered by Collect and Pay arrangements are not receiving a penny of the maintenance they are legally entitled to[3]
  • There are £354m in arrears, yet just £31m has been collected through CMS enforcement actions – less than 10% of the figure that is owed[4]
  • Despite over 100,000 non-compliant parents and the enforcement powers the CMS has, just three passports were confiscated in 2019.[5]

This non-payment means many single parent families are living in poverty. Research has shown that for those who are owed maintenance and are living in poverty, being paid the child maintenance they are due would lift around 60% of them out of the poverty trap.

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread said:

“It is a child’s legal right to be supported by both parents, and yet the service designed to protect this right is failing them. Even before COVID-19, there was £335 million in unpaid arrears and over 100,000 children across the country were not receiving a penny in maintenance. COVID-19 has exacerbated these problems and even more single parent families have lost out on maintenance payments which can make the difference between having food on the table or not.

“Despite a vast array of enforcement powers, the CMS has shown extreme negligence in actually using them and it has collected less than 10% of what is actually owed. It simply cannot be right that a government service is responsible for leaving children of single parents in poverty.”

The legal challenge is supported by Mumsnet. Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Founder and Chief Executive said:

“Contributing towards the food on your child’s table and the roof over their head is surely the minimum basic standard for being a decent parent, which makes the low priority accorded to enforcing child maintenance payments close to inexplicable. As countless single parents on Mumsnet will attest, the effects on children’s physical and emotional wellbeing are profound. It’s long past time for the Child Maintenance Service to do its job.”

The legal challenge is also supported by the Good Law Project. Jolyon Maugham, Founder and Director of Good Law Project and a former Chair of Gingerbread said:

“Being a single parent is just about the toughest job in the country. What single parents really need is help from Government. But what they’ve had is laws which remove their right to sue absent parents for financial support and an agency that fails to collect that money.

“The Child Maintenance Service – along with its predecessors – has failed single parents, usually mothers, for years. It is high time it was made fit for purpose. Good Law Project is proud to support this case.”

Gingerbread and the claimants are calling for:

  1. The systemic review of the Child Maintenance Service to enable it to start working for the children and parents it was set up to serve.
  2. Effective enforcement where non-resident parents refuse to pay the money they owe to their children.

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[1] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 11

[2] HoC Library (2019) Child maintenance: the multi-billion-pound write-off of arrears on Child Support Agency cases (GB).

[3] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 6

[4] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 12.1

[5] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 12.2

Find out more about the legal action and our #FixTheCMS campaign

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