10.There are currently three statutory child support schemes operating in Great Britain: 1993 and 2003 legacy schemes administered by the CSA and the new 2012 scheme, open to new applicants and administered by the CMS. The Government is introducing the 2012 scheme in phases, an approach that was praised by the Public Accounts Committee. The CMS began receiving a small number of new cases in December 2012 and took on all new applications from November 2013. The process of transitioning existing CSA cases is underway and scheduled for completion by the end of 2017. In keeping with the recommendation of the Henshaw report, cases are not directly transferred between schemes: the CSA case is closed and a new application, if necessary, is made to the CMS.
11.When a case is selected for closure, the existing claimant (the PWC) receives a letter with a specified closure date in six to nine months’ time. Parents must then have a consultation with CMO before they can make an application to the CMS. CMO encourages them to establish a FBA and not to continue in the statutory scheme if possible. After the consultation, a PWC can then decide whether to open a new CMS case or not. There can be a substantial delay between the CSA case closing and the new CSA case opening, meaning there can be a break in payments even if the liability continues. We heard a number of concerns about access to the statutory scheme and consider these in more detail in chapter 3.
12.New CMS cases are placed in the CMS Direct Pay scheme, where CMS calculates the maintenance amount but it is up to the parents to arrange the payments. This means that PWC cannot choose to be put straight into the Collect and Pay scheme, where the CMS acts as an intermediary for payments. If the PWC subsequently informs the CMS that the NRP has failed to pay in full and on time, CMS policy is to “seek to contact the non-resident parent by telephone within 72 hours”. The NRP then has 14 days to provide evidence that the allegedly missed payments had actually been made. If they are unable to do so, the CMS will “move them rapidly into the collection service” and can consider the use of enforcement action.
13.This policy of beginning CMS cases with Direct Pay still applies in cases that were in the CSA collection scheme or where there is a history of non-compliance. In keeping with CMS cases being new applications rather than direct transfers from the CSA, case histories, including evidence of non-payment, are not routinely moved to the CMS.
14.The failure to use this information was frustrating for many PWC. Gingerbread, a charity for single parent families, told us:
This loss of accumulated knowledge means that single parents who have battled for years to get the CSA to take proper account of a non-resident parent’s income can find that they are left having to start all over again in getting the CMS to do the same.
One parent told us:
When you make your claim with CMS you start again at the beginning, so those five and a half years of history were completely lost.
We heard that the absence of historic data could also be frustrating for parents paying maintenance. One NRP told us:
My case goes over to the CMS and it seems that the only information the CSA has given them is my daughter’s information and my information but nothing of my earning or how much I was paying.
15.We heard that the failure to transfer case history information could let NRPs seeking to avoid maintenance payments off the hook. One PWC told us that their case was “on the verge of going for enforcement” under the CSA but she could not pursue this route when her new CMS case was opened. A further parent, a survivor of domestic violence, found that progress in tracking down her ex-partner had been wasted, resulting in increased payment arrears:
I was staggered to learn that the 8 months of info trying to locate my ex and the knowledge of his current location was not allowed to be transferred from one department to another. They had to search for him again through HMRC, then write, call and email. The arrears now stand at over £5000 and the CMS don’t know if they can recover any [ … ] it’s like I’m being controlled all over again.
16.DWP said that information should not be lost in closing cases but that only limited categories of information were transferred from the CSA to the CMS as a matter of course. Gingerbread, a charity for single parent families, said that the Department was using a “one-size fits all” approach to moving cases and that its approach of encouraging a “fresh start” was not necessarily appropriate in cases with a long history of non-compliance.
17.Parents should take responsibility for supporting their children and the Government is right to prefer that parents organise maintenance with as little statutory involvement as possible. The transition of cases into the new system offers an opportunity for a fresh start and many parents with existing CSA cases have opted not to enter the CMS. There is a balance, however, between starting afresh in a new system and ensuring payments to support children are made. In cases where the non-resident parent has a long history of non-compliance it is not fair or constructive to force parents with care to start the process from scratch. This currently happens even when there is an active CSA investigation or enforcement action. We recommend that case histories of prolonged under-payment of child maintenance be transferred automatically from CSA to CMS. In instances where the CSA case includes ongoing investigatory or enforcement action, we recommend parents with care be permitted to opt to be placed immediately in the Collect and Pay scheme on joining the CMS.
15 DWP, 2014, (“the ending liability scheme”), December
16 (Caroline Nokes)
17 PWCs can voluntarily close cases earlier.
18 (Janet Allbseson)
19 In a narrow range of circumstances, NRPs may be required to pay half of maintenance through an enforced mechanism from the start of the case. See DWP supplementary written evidence ().
20 DWP, , Cm 8399, July 2012
21 DWP supplementary written evidence (). The DWP told us that information should be not lost, and should be available to access on an ad hoc basis but only certain items of information are transferred automatically from the legacy system to CMS.
22 (Parent 1)
23 Name Withheld ()
24 Name withheld ()
25 Women’s Aid ()
26 DWP supplementary written evidence ()
27 Gingerbread ()
28 April 2017