From £800 a month to £3 a month – Kate’s story

Posted 18 December 2023

Kate has been dealing with the CMS since she broke up with her son’s father. She explains some of the challenges she’s faced and why reform is urgently needed.

‘My relationship with my son’s father finished because of domestic abuse. The police attended the house on numerous occasions, and he was removed several times. It was awful, but I was able to move away.

Of course, he didn’t like the fact that I’d moved away and didn’t want to give me anything. So I’ve always had to rely on the CMS to arrange child maintenance.

He pays late most months. I keep requesting to go to Collect and Pay because it would take the stress away for me. He’s missed payments several times, so the CMS contact him and then he’ll pay – but it’s a whole month late.

And then one month he didn’t pay anything at all. I contacted the CMS, and they told me his situation had changed so he didn’t have to pay me. I knew he was still working because he was telling my son he was. This went on for almost a year. I had to keep contacting the CMS and trying to make a nuisance of myself. Apparently, they’d been talking to him trying to work out the amount.

Eventually I got a letter to say I’d be getting the arrears repaid at £800 a month! But then, the next day I got another letter, reducing it to £400 a month. And then it got reduced to £3 a month.

And now – again – I’m back to receiving no child maintenance at all. He’s told the CMS that he doesn’t have a job, however my son tells me he’s got a new job, so I believe he’s actually in between jobs. It took 9 months to sort this out last time, so I imagine I’m in for the same this time round.

It’s a nightmare trying to get through to the CMS

You have to set aside at least an hour of your day, it seems they always keep you on hold for 45 minutes. I put my phone on speaker and try and get on with something else while I’m waiting.

You never talk to the same person twice, so they don’t understand your case. Once, when I was talking to them, the worker I was speaking to said they would never have agreed to that amount of arrears my ex was paying. So it depends on who you speak to and how they interpret the rules. And he’s abusive – I can easily imagine him being aggressive with the CMS staff, saying ‘I’m only going to pay this amount’. What can the person on the other end of the phone do in that situation?

And their admin system is so frustrating! Every time anything changes, the system produces a letter. I once received 4 letters with 4 different amounts all on the same day!

I’ve learned that I can’t count on receiving maintenance

I’ve always worked, so I don’t totally rely on child maintenance – but it makes a difference when you don’t get it. When I was getting a mortgage on my own, and the bank asked for my income, I couldn’t prove that I was getting child maintenance every month. If I’d been able to rely on that money, I might have been able to afford a nicer house for my son.

I would rather have worked part-time when my son was younger, and spent more time with him. But I had no choice. I was the only person bringing money in. My childcare bills, my travel costs and my mortgage were pretty much all the same amount at one point. We didn’t go on holidays or anything like that.

The only thing he’s got over me now is financial control

My ex knows that I’ll always make sure our son has what he needs, even if that means I forgo any extras for myself.  So it feels like a continuation of that control he used to have. The £3 a month is insulting. It’s always been like this – he pays the minimum he can get away with, then they chase him and he pays a bit more.

It’s just vindictive and unnecessary. I’m providing everything and he’s trying his best not to provide anything at all. I’ve always found that upsetting. He’s his son too!

What needs to change

If the CMS could move all domestic abuse cases to Collect and Pay that would make a big difference. And it would be easier if you had one person who knew your case to let you know how the amounts were calculated. They also used to have an online portal where you could leave messages but then they took that away. It would be great if they could reinstate that.

But most of all, the CMS needs to understand the complexities of the relationships it’s dealing with. I feel like the majority of cases going through the CMS are the result of a difficult relationship where the trust has broken down. So the way they manage the communication between the two parties needs to be reflective of those difficulties.

Sometimes I think I should just not claim child maintenance, it’s almost not worth the stress. But that’s what the whole system is set up to achieve surely, to make sure the resident parent receives the money their child needs? 

*some details have been changed for privacy

Find out more about our work on CMS reform