1.Child maintenance is support for a child’s everyday living costs such as food, clothes and accommodation. It is provided by the separated parent who does not have day-to-day caring responsibility for the child, the non-resident parent (NRP), to the parent with that caring responsibility, the parent with care (PWC). Though child maintenance can include sharing the care of the child or buying things for them directly, it is usually provided in the form of a financial transfer between parents.
2.Children in single parent families are at greater risk of poverty than their counterparts living with both parents. DWP data show that double the proportion of children in low parent households live in severe low income and material deprivation, while 44% are in relative poverty after housing costs, compared with 24% of children who live with a couple. Child maintenance is an important source of income for separated families, particularly at the lower end of the income scale. A 2012 report by the Nuffield Foundation found that, of single parent families claiming benefits and receiving child maintenance, 19% were lifted above the poverty line by the maintenance. Financial support for children, particularly where it contributes to them not spending a childhood in persistent poverty, can be an important factor in improving their life chances.
3.The Department for Work and Pensions (the Department, DWP) told us that children also tend to have “better health, emotional wellbeing and higher academic attainment” when their parents can manage conflict well. The Government therefore encourages separated parents to come to their own financial arrangements, without the involvement of the state or the courts, wherever possible. Most NRPs want to support their children financially, and the majority willingly do so. Some parents are, however, unable to agree financial arrangements following separation and therefore require support from the state to do so. Some parents, unfortunately, wish to avoid their financial obligations to their children altogether. In these cases their former partner may be reliant on the state to enforce payment.
4.Statutory child maintenance in the United Kingdom was introduced in 1993 with the establishment of the Child Support Agency (CSA). Under this scheme, a parent could apply to the CSA to calculate a maintenance amount and manage payments. The CSA was beset by a range of operational, legal and policy problems and in 2006 the then Government commissioned Sir David Henshaw, the former Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council, to review it.
5.The Henshaw report recommended a significant change of direction towards discouraging parents from using the statutory scheme and instead encouraging them to make their own maintenance arrangements. The review found the CSA was “severely damaged” and not “capable of the radical shift in business model, culture and efficiency required” to deliver the reformed model. It therefore recommended a “clean break” with a new body set up to oversee the new system.
6.In 2012 the Government brought forward changes to the child maintenance system. It said that “too many parents” had “come to see the CSA as the default option for arranging maintenance” and that a more effective approach would be “to support parents to reach their own arrangements wherever possible, with a new, efficient and effective statutory scheme providing a safety net where needed”. This safety net would be provided by a new statutory Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which would replace the CSA.
7.The other main changes introduced in the 2012 scheme were:
a)A compulsory gateway conversation with Child Maintenance Options (CMO) before applying to the CMS. This is intended to ensure parents consider a private maintenance agreement, known as a “family-based arrangement” (FBA), before opting for the statutory scheme. CMO provides free telephone and online public advice. Its services include a maintenance calculator and guidance on practical aspects of separation such as housing and benefits. It can also direct parents to more specialist services provided by other bodies.
b)A new system of charges for using the statutory scheme, including an application fee, charges for using the CMS to administer payments (Collect and Pay) and enforcement charges.
c)A simplified formula for calculating maintenance payments in the CMS, using HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gross income data, rather than net income as in the old scheme.
8.In March 2016 we held a private meeting with three mothers. They told us that they were not receiving the necessary financial support as PWCs from their ex-partners under the 2012 scheme and were distressed by an absence of support from the CMS in pursuing maintenance payments to which they were entitled. The mothers were all concerned this threatened their ability to provide for their children. Their experience corresponded with cases we have dealt with on behalf of our constituents and have been sent to us as a Committee.
9.Our inquiry focussed on three main areas which we address in this report:
In addition to the three mothers, our evidence programme included five parents with direct experience of statutory child maintenance. We also received a large number of written submissions from individual parents. We would like to thank all those who contributed to this inquiry, particularly those parents who told us about their personal experiences.
1 DWP, , 28 June 2016
2 Gingerbread ()
3 Nuffield Foundation et al, , 2012. The poverty line is set at 60 per cent of the median household income of the UK population
4 DWP public consultation: , July 2012
5 Department for Work and Pensions ()
7 Sir David Henshaw Cm 6894 2006 p 16–17
10 Public consultation: , July 2012. The introduced the new maintenance calculation formula and replaced the CSA with a non-departmental body, the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC). CMEC was subsequently abolished and its functions brought into the DWP under the .
11 Under Direct Pay, maintenance payments are made directly from the Paying Parent’s bank account to the Receiving Parent’s. Under Collect and Pay, the CMS acts as an intermediary.
12 Department for Work and Pensions ()
13 This included one fellow Member of Parliament, who provided evidence in private on her experiences of the system.
28 April 2017