The new statutory child maintenance scheme

The Government’s wish is that more parents work out child maintenance themselves without needing to involve the state. However, the Government recognises that separated parents cannot always work things out and there are some occasions when it is not appropriate for them to try. This is why the Government wants to provide an effective statutory child maintenance service as a fall back.
 

The Child Maintenance Service is the new statutory child maintenance service. It works out how much, and when, child maintenance should be paid on behalf of some separated parents in England, Wales and Scotland. It also has the capability, where necessary, to collect child maintenance from one parent and pay it out to the other (e.g. by deducting child maintenance at source from earnings or bank accounts).

 

The Child Maintenance Service is open to all new applicants and the Child Support Agency has now stopped taking new applications.

 

New child maintenance calculations

The Child Maintenance Service uses the paying parent’s gross annual income, from the latest available tax year, as the starting point to work out child maintenance. In most cases, this information is provided to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by the paying parent, their employer or accountant. This means it can process applications more quickly. It also means the Child Maintenance Service can work out an accurate amount without waiting for the paying parent to provide information.

 

Annual Reviews

Every year the Child Maintenance Service will review the paying parent’s income, benefit status and other circumstances. This will help to work out if the amount of child maintenance they pay for the next 12 months should stay the same, or if it should go up or down. This is called the Annual Review, and will be done automatically. It will ensure that maintenance calculations remain fair and accurate.

 

Increased flat rate of child maintenance

Parents who are on low incomes or on benefits pay a flat rate of child maintenance. To reflect the increased costs of bringing up a child, this flat rate has been increased from £5 to £7 for parents using the Child Maintenance Service.

 

This increase in the flat rate will increase the amount of money flowing to children and reflects more closely the maintenance which non-resident parents in work, but not on flat rate, are required to pay.

 

The flat rate for existing cases within the Child Support Agency will remain at £5.

 

Shared care

Unlike in the Child Support Agency, parents who share the day-to-day care of their children exactly equally are not required to pay maintenance to each other if they have a Child Maintenance Service case. Both parents are required to show evidence that the day-to-day care is shared exactly equally.

 

An assumption of shared care equivalent to one night per week may be made where parents agree in principle that there is a shared care arrangement but cannot agree on the number of nights and neither parent is able to provide evidence supporting their claim.

 

Enforcement

If a paying parent does not pay the right amount of child maintenance on time, then the Child Maintenance Service can, and will, take appropriate action to get the money owed. If a paying parent knows they’re going to be late making a payment or miss a payment, it’s important they tell the Child Maintenance Service straight away so that the situation can be discussed.

 

Within 72 hours of a payment being missed, the Child Maintenance Service will contact a paying parent to seek continuing payments and so stop arrears building up.

 

If child maintenance continues not to be paid, there are three things the Child Maintenance Service can do to get unpaid child maintenance from a paying parent:

  • take the money direct from their earnings;
  • take the money from their bank or building society account; or
  • take action through the courts.

 

If the matter goes to the courts, there are several actions the Child Maintenance Service can take. For example, it can ask the court to:

  • instruct bailiffs to recover the money;
  • sell a paying parent’s property; or
  • send a paying parent to prison.

 

If the Child Maintenance Service has to take action through the courts, then the paying parent may have to pay their own legal costs as well as the Child Maintenance Service’s legal costs. This would be in addition to the child maintenance owed.

 

Regular communication

Both paying parents and receiving parents will be sent a statement each year. Paying parents will see how much child maintenance they have paid during the previous 12 months. Receiving parents will see the amount of maintenance they have received during the previous 12 months.

 

Gateway

It is mandatory for parents wishing to apply to the Child Maintenance Service to have a conversation with Child Maintenance Options to discuss their choices and consider alternatives before they can proceed with their application.

 

Change in the upper age limit.

One final change is that for all cases managed by the Child Support Agency and Child Maintenance Service the upper age at which children can qualify for child maintenance has changed to their 20th birthday (up from their 19th birthday). This is in line with the Child Benefit age range.

 

What is happening to Child Support Agency existing cases?

There will be no immediate changes to how Child Support Agency cases are managed and clients will be contacted when there are any changes.

 

A limited number of Child Support Agency clients may see their cases moved to the Child Maintenance Service. This will only happen when a new application is made to the Child Maintenance Service naming a paying parent who already has an existing Child Support Agency case. In this situation, the Child Maintenance Service will automatically open a case for the paying parent and any receiving parents they pay child maintenance to.

 

 

 

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