Government U-turn on child maintenance avoidance is “welcome but not enough”

Posted 12 July 2018

The government’s new child maintenance strategy shows it is listening to the concerns raised by Gingerbread and single parents,[1] but still leaves question marks as to whether the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is fit for purpose.

Today’s Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) compliance and arrears strategy announces measures to limit child maintenance avoidance[2] and tackle non-payment – directly responding to many of Gingerbread’s recommendations.

The strategy outlines:

  • Ways to tackle child maintenance avoidance, including reintroducing the ‘assets variation’, making it easier to include paying parents’ unearned taxable income and increasing staff numbers in its Financial Investigation Unit[3]
  • New powers to tackle unpaid maintenance, including new ways to deduct maintenance from income and a new power to remove passports from parents who fail to pay what they owe
  • The DWP’s approach to deal with, and write off, outstanding arrears that have accrued under the old Child Support Agency (CSA) – now replaced by the CMS.[4]

Responding to the strategy, Sumi Rabindrakumar, Research Officer at Gingerbread said:

“We’re pleased to see the government listen to the concerns raised by Gingerbread and start to tackle the longstanding problems of child maintenance avoidance and non-payment.

“For too long, the CMS has stuck rigidly to a ‘one size fits all’ approach that failed to recognise more complex finances, leaving loopholes that allow parents to avoid paying what they can afford and mean many children go without the maintenance they deserve. The U-turn announced today shows the concerns raised by the many parents who campaigned with Gingerbread are finally being heard.

“Disappointingly, when it comes to unpaid maintenance, there still seems little that is strategic in the DWP’s plans. Today’s announcement sets out some tough new powers, but we know these are unlikely to be used.[5] The government also fails to outline how it will ensure prompt enforcement through its more commonly used existing powers. In the meantime, the government continues to add insult to injury by charging parents to use the CMS’s collection service when their child’s other parent doesn’t comply.[6]

“Buried in the consultation , the DWP confirms it expects to write off nearly £2 billion in CSA arrears owed to parents. Apart from the injustice this represents for parents, it is a sober reminder that the DWP must up its game to avoid history repeating itself in the CMS – particularly when arrears are already rising in the new service.[7]

“The DWP’s new strategy for compliance and arrears management was an opportunity to show how it intends to learn from the huge failings under the CSA. There are welcome steps forward, but not enough – offering no real fresh start for parents already struggling to get the maintenance owed to their children.”


[1] Gingerbread’s response to the DWP’s consultation.

[2] Child maintenance avoidance describes when a paying parent minimises their declared income, which is used to calculate maintenance owed, thereby paying far less than they can afford.

[3] Parents can challenge their child maintenance calculation by applying for a ‘variation’ on specific grounds. Previous reforms removed two grounds for a variation – having assets worth over £65,000 from which paying parents weren’t drawing an income, and having a lifestyle inconsistent with their declared income. To date, unearned income can be taken into account when calculating how much maintenance to pay, but only after a variation on this ground has been granted (ie not as part of the standard calculation).

[4] CSA arrears will start to be written off only once liability ends – ie there are no ongoing payments due.

[5] The government estimates that a new passport removal power would be used around once a year with the current CMS caseload. DWP (2017) Child maintenance: a new compliance and arrears strategy – methodology paper.

[6] The coalition government introduced charges to deter the use of the CMS ‘Collect and Pay’ service (where the statutory service steps in to collect maintenance, using enforcement action) and encourage compliance. If a case is in Collect and Pay, receiving parents get 4 per cent deducted from any maintenance collected and paying parents must pay an additional 20 per cent on top of their maintenance payment.

[7] DWP (2018) Child Maintenance Service: Aug 2013 to Dec 2017 (experimental).

19 comments on “Government U-turn on child maintenance avoidance is “welcome but not enough”

  1. If your child’s father lives in a Country, such as Egypt , the U.K. government have zero recourse to chase child maintanence . I’ve never heard anything about this being looked into , parents like myself just have to cope financially alone .

  2. I’ve not received a penny since my child was 9mths old and she’s nearly 16 . It’s absolutely disgusting . Whether it’s csa or cma it doesn’t help all them years you have had to do it all yourself does it

  3. i have been trying to get child support from my ex for three years. I am aware my ex has got a self employed business but yet he still does not provide his income to csa and he will avoid contact with csa also. This week CSA have informed me that child support is not an income. I have said to CSA those who do not pay are liable to pay and to pay the arrears off. My ex is in arrears and I feel that CSA do not enough to solve the problem. The powers they have they do not use if they take the parent who does not pay to court then this should give a wake up call to those who do not pay. Its not the receiving parent that misses out on this is the child. Its my parents that put food on the table for my daughter and clothing. My ex does not bother he rather pay for children that are not his. If CSA do not use their powers the person that should gets away with it.

  4. The father of my child has informed CMS that he no longer works, when he is in fact self employed, he rents out a house, so has income from that every month, has his current home up for sale and owns a caravan which he rents out, (he sold the second caravan in March). Cms told me to provide evidence and to inform HMRC tax office of his avoidance to pay tax! CMS said they received a letter from his ex employer to say he doesnt work for him, and they can only go off this evidence! (His ex employer is a personal friend of his!). I have to work 2 jobs to provide for OUR son and get penalised by getting less help and having to pay more taxes The CMS charged me to set up a case, I wonder what they are getting paid for? These payment avoiding absent parents, CMS and this government are failing our children massively!

    1. Tell cms u wish to raise a complaint and you know ur ex is earning and working and ur not happy with the decision and u wish for them to look into his situation and I don’t know how long you have been receiving cm bit I’d ask if his earnings coukd be investigated as you feel he has bedn earning more . I did this now my ex s tax returns are not being looked as he has lied about earnings . I’m now due thousands and I’m glad I kept fighting for my children as I struggle and work full time . Good luck . You can also go to ombudsmen and your mp .

  5. My ex has his own income, his wife’s (moonlight flit marriage and now she’s died) and that of her ex’s as the ex and the wife had 2 children. He has the money to take me to court over every little thing and has his late wife’s house and car and ‘apparently’ he’s looking after his late wife’s children meaning I get less although I’m sure these children live with their dad now. But I only £37 a week and have been homeless at one stage.

  6. I have lived below the poverty line for four years (and counting) with zero maintenance from my ex husband whom I’m currently divorcing. He continues to live the high life abroad in Europe, plus goes on exotic holidays, sipping cool beers by his pool, hiring speedboats for jolly days out. Money is no object to him, he affords whatever he so desires. Whilst I, the single parent with care, cannot afford oil to heat my house or hot water to bath the children in. Sometimes I cannot even afford enough electricity for basic living standards. Whenever the meter alarm goes off my heart sinks. A lovely charity last year gave us coal over the winter and I also cut down trees by hand with an awful rusty handsaw so that I could heat one room in my house. We went to bed in woolly hats and never took our costs off inside.

    Nobody cares. Judges apparently do not care that such a huge disparity in lifestyle matters. Apparently they think this is ok?
    It is NOT ok and NEVER EVER will be. Enough is Enough…. Judges cannot condone this continually abusive inequality and unethical reality one second more. Myself and other parents like me are battle READY! And people wonder why women stay in domestic violence situations???? Wake up world.

    1. That’s because the system is set up to protect the wealthy. Many of these deadbeat parents have great positions in society, tax dodgers etc. Just look at the politicians who have defrauded the system. It’s disgusting! What about the rights of our children? Zero equality. They’re silenced. I’m in the same boat as yourself, fast forward 11 years.It has been 3 years of dealing with the great CMS whilst my ex lived in Spain with his two other children and wife. Did he tell the CMS, no! He declares £11k salary and they accept it, still no sign of the poultry figure they calculated. He’s in papers all the time re his business, investors like Dan Pena and Robert Kiyosaki.

    2. Childs father has household income of over 100k, but is a complete narcissist. He broke his ex and boasted how she lost her house. He said he will do the same to me. Once a high income earner myself I am now on benefits. He pays a bit of CM to keep them off his back, but now they are going to take it from his wages – that was mid August and found out that there is a month backlog to process it. Then it will be about 2 months. I earn 90 a week and have to spend 10 in transport and travel 1 h 40 mins to take a 3 year to weekly contact. I have requested handover at the local supermarket which is 14 miles off his journey but be refuses. Agree the Judge has to wake up. How can a man get quality time with a 3 yo when they have to get up nearly 3 hours earlier than usual and travel on 2 buses and a train and walk in excess of 1.5 miles. WAKE UP JUDGE!!!!!! Non payment and contact SHOULD NOT be seen as two separate things, finances need to be taken into account arranging contact

  7. Wow. Having read through all the comments, what concerns me the most is how much power it seems some of us have, are and still giving to these absent parents. Absent because any parent who can support their child(ren) financially YET still refuses to do so isn’t worth being acknowledged as having any relation to such a child(ren). In my opinion, anyway. Therefore, while reporting the inconveniences we have/continue to face at the hands of truly inconsiderate people, we also need to be counting our blessings at the same time. Especially while there are those courageous individuals out there (who probably doesn’t have to but still do) who continue to work tirelessly on our behalf to bring about justice and resolve in this somewhat neglected area. Not sure what to be grateful for? What about a roof over your head, drinkable water, family and friends, your health or perhaps access to the internet? Selah. On that note, thank you Gingerbread Group for all your support thus far! Together, we shall not only overcome but will eventually overthrow these low lives out of their current, fake existence of power as well. Here is to us! M

  8. My husband lives in Pakistan, and he has given our daughter in total of £60 since she was born (she is now 2 and a half). I left him as he was abusive and violent. He is in and out of work as he does not want to pay CM, he has made no effort to meet me or my daughter or to even maintain a relationship with her over the phone. Absolutely disgusting. Parents like myself need more support from the UK Government to tackle this issue, no VISA’s should be issued to parents from another country who claim to want to come to be with their family but who have not paid CM and have no intention of supporting their family.

  9. The latest CMS are useless and a complete waste of time and money. The previous CSA took two years of fighting but then managed to get an attachment to earnings put on my daughters dad so he was then paying a small amount every month. Then the CMS wrote to say they were taking over. I had to pay £20 to get this set up. After explaining that he previous had an attachment to earnings as he had refused to pay, they said they will only do this if he breaks the terms of a direct pay. Obviously as expected he broke this. He now owes over £1700 in child support. He recently sent me a message to say that he had paid enough maintenance over the last 10 years and won’t be paying anymore and if the CMS pursue he will quit his job. They did and he quit. s (my daughter is 9, the attachment was put on when she was three and he paid (£150 a month) He is now working for a cash in hand job so the CMS cannot do anything. So thanks to the new and improved CMS, I am struggling to cope financially being a working parent whilst he basically gets away with it. £150 isn’t much to ask for and is better than nothing as far as I’m concerned but they can’t even enforce him paying that! It is a total shambles. The new enforcement is just a threat and the CMS admitted repeatedly that they have been unable to use these imaginary poweers. Oh and to top it, my ex doesn’t see his daughter and doesn’t want to. He messaged both me and my husband to say he wants him to adopt her so he can get on with his life! Apparently it takes two to make a baby but one when one person decides it’s toomuch of an inconvenience, the government pat them on the back and let them go. Unbelievable.

  10. The dwp, government as a whole and the former CDA have failed us single parents and the children involved by not upholding their obligation to ensure we have/ had the financial support we are deemed to be entitled to in raising our children.

    My ex partner has gone to e traorxinary lengrhs to avoid paying the £11000 he owes me. He lives in this country somewhere and boasts 6 holidays a year as well as enjoying a quality lifestyle and works cash in hand to afford this.

    If the suggestion is that a high percentage of the total owed will be greatly reduced because parents will assume they will n ever get their money and will therefore not pursue it then that is shameful.

    If the money owed was to HM revenues and customs the individuals would be found and receive hefty penalties on top of what they owe so the cost of finding these displays is less non paying individuals should come st a cost to them and them alone.

    The government, in admission to the failings of the CSA could and should pay a percentage of the debt as a whole to all those who should have received it and then they can by all means right it off if they choose to.

    Whatever happened to naming and shaming these individuals and taking away their freedoms as they have done in not supporting their children?

  11. I am a paying father who has been very honest about my salary and has always made sure my children are provided for and as such would like to comment on how incompetent the child maintenance service is and how biased they are towards the paying parent. They do not care about us at all and as far as they are concerned we are the problem and the receiving parents are angels! Also on a government level the amount we pay should not be based on gross earnings before tax and national Insurance…..We pay tax and national Insurance!!! It’s not an option to pay or not to pay…..and why does the amount of money that the receiving parent earns versus the paying parent earnings not factor at all!!!
    For all honest and up to date caring paying parents i’d Like to say you are in desperate need of a change of system.
    Just to be clear I think paying parents who avoid paying should be punished and made to pay….full stop!

    1. Gerard,
      I take your comments on board, however you mentioned that the receivers income should be taken into account. This would be necessary if both parents had joint shared care, whereby, the child lived between both households. If the receiver as the child(ren) in their care at all times or the majority of times, then it would mean that most, if not all overhead cost, eg. Food, water, electricity, gas, travel, entertainment, etc., will be the responsibility of that parent. My overheads have increased dramatically since my ex stopped shared care, including the school holiday breaks, which was equally shared. This is the invisible cost that is at many times overlooked by the paying parent.

      I challenged the maintenance after my ex made a conscious decision not to have regular contact. The children are now 12 and 15 years. I work but also receive tax credits and top up for housing as my income does not cover my overheads. Following a review, the maintenance was increased which upset my ex who has now stopped contributing to the cost of childcare. I am now in crisis for the first time and it’s frightening. I feel dispointed that my ex is not realising the difficulty at this stage for the children. I will struggling for the next 2 weeks to feed them, this includes school lunches too. I am so sadden by this situation as the children did not ask to be there, and we jointly have a huge responsibility to care for their basic needs and wellbeing. The system needs reform and that includes family law too!

      1. I had a letter from the CMS as my ex says I’m under paying her.
        I’ve been paying £205 a month for my son, i cloth him feed him pay for trips and after school activities yet my ex thinks it’s still
        Not enough. After CMS Carried our there investigate they recon I should pay less than £100 a month. They said that if I pay a penny under they would investigate me not a penny over. Whole system is a joke. Good honest single fathers paying more than they should yet the women hold all the keys
        I told my ex and CMS to stick it I will continue to pay as much over the top as possible as I wouldn’t want my son to go with out!!

      2. My now ex husband abandoned me and our two children 2008 (to set up home with his pregnant mistress) and the CSA couldnt trace him so i got no maintainence, until a consent order was agreed in Court,mid 2010. He paid the order until 2016. He stopped paying, gave no reason, did not respond to emails. I had no address for him so was forced to go to the CMS. The CMS it appears, does not have any powers to insist my ex declares any dividends. He is I believe, self employed and works for the police as a .net computer developer which normally pays in the religion of 60k +. For that level of job. He also has a second job and i have given all this information to The CMS when i applied for a variation order. They have dismissed my application for a variation order and promised to send me confirmation explaining why they made this decision, but i still havent recieved a hard copy as promised, in the post. Until i get this i am not permitted to apply for a mandatory reconsideration.
        Nor am i allowed to enforce the earlier consent order, as the CMS supersedes any previously agreed court orders with the expectation they have made the correct calculation and collected payments…. no they have got the calculations badly wrong and if my ex doesnt pay via attachment to earnings (when he is his own self employed boss) theCMS just add it onto arrears, with no agreement in place to pay off said arrears because they have protected his income as they falsely believe hes a low earner!The CMS are basing maintenance payments on a mere 13k via HMRC! All symptoms of a very broken Britain…. the last person to leave the country please turn off the lights…. I couldn’t be more horrified or disgusted with UK justice!

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