The Government’s Child Maintenance Scheme – Progress to date
The government is in the middle of an overhaul of the child maintenance system, with a view to replacing the much-criticised and generally inefficient system that used to be known as the CSA (the Child Support Agency).
The current scheme is known as the Child Maintenance 2012 Scheme. It is overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and their progress has recently been reviewed by the government’s own Public Accounts Committee.
The Public Accounts Committee has indicated that there are 2.5 million separated families in the UK. There are several options for arranging child support: –
Around 1.1 million rely on statutory government-run schemes that assess, collect and make payments; other families set up their own arrangements or use the Court system. Around 600,000 families have no arrangements at all. In December 2012 the DWP introduced the first phase of the Maintenance 2012 Scheme, which was to replace the two previous schemes for child maintenance which had struggled with IT problems, leading to poor customer service and incomplete information about outstanding debt. According to the DWP the 2012 Scheme is designed to maximise the number of children benefitting from child maintenance arrangements and to reduce government spending on administering child support. To that end it has introduced new rules for calculating payments, a new IT system for managing cases, and charges for using and enforcing the Scheme. Newly separated parents access information through an online and telephone gateway, which explains the benefits of the choices available and provides guidance on how to set up family based arrangements.
According to the Public Accounts Committee, the DWP has made good progress in simplifying the way it administers child maintenance. However, it comments that there is a worrying uncertainty around the impact that the introduction of charges for statutory child maintenance services will have. The Department’s primary aim is to encourage more parents to make family based arrangements rather than rely on the statutory scheme, and it has an ambitious expectation of reducing the number of statutory cases by 250,000 (one-quarter) by 2018/2019. However the Public Accounts Committee wonders whether charges have been set at the right level to achieve this objective? Some commentators believe that the Department has been unrealistic about the number of parents who will be able to reach their own private arrangements, and according to a survey of callers who were informed of the choices available for child maintenance, the number of parents intending to choose family based arrangements reduced by more than a third from 5,540 in August 2013 to 3,590 in March 2014. Research further suggests that for parents on low incomes the £20 application fee would be a significant barrier to applying for the statutory service. Commentators fear that there is a risk that some parents will end up reaching no arrangement at all, to the detriment of the children involved.
There are a range of options for all parents and separated families as to how to arrange child support. Since the introduction of the CSA in the early 1990’s there has, until recently, been an inefficient but workable regime, which in outline was simple, and which charged no fee to access the service. The new 2012 Scheme introduces fees, and there is clearly some concern that the fees are set at a level which is too high, and that the result will be that many hundreds of thousands of parents will have no viable or practical arrangements for child support.
How we can help?
The Family Team at rhw are committed to providing expert advice and assistance when it comes to the principles of child support. There are alternatives to the government scheme, and they involve arrangements made between the parents direct. rhw Family Team can assist you in understanding the government scheme and in making the right arrangements for you and your children.
If you have any questions or concerns with regard to these matters or are seeking advice on any other area of Family Law, please contact Samantha Jago, Elizabeth Leah, Julian McEvoy or Catherine Withers on 01483 302000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org