Posted on May 28, 2014 in Family Law by Amanda Wilson
The abolition of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and the introduction of the new Child Maintenance Service.
Gradual changes have been introduced to the child maintenance system in the UK since December 2012 and most are now in place, with very little publicity surrounding those changes until this week. The most significant change was perhaps the abolition of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) which had previously replaced the Child Support Agency (CSA) in 2013. Under the previous system, the CSA had been responsible for collecting maintenance payments from "Non Resident Parents" (NRPs) for over 20 years. Now, the Child Maintenance Service (which is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions) is responsible for all new applications.
One Government spokesman stated that the old CSA was using an IT system which was "totally inadequate and notoriously riddled with defects" which was reported to cost an estimated £74million per annum to run in operating costs alone. The spokesman further suggested that the old system "took responsibility away from parents, encouraging conflict and hostility at huge expense to the taxpayer".
However, many "Parents With Care" (PWCs) and "Non Resident Parents" (NRPs), who have been using the CSA, were not aware of the changes until over 50,000 received letters from the DWP this week. The letters apparently explain that the new system has been introduced and encourage separated parents to come to amicable agreements, in respect of child maintenance, failing which to apply for an assessment under the new scheme – which will also incur a charge.
New system, same problems?
Whilst it is encouraging that the Government has recognised the numerous flaws in the previous child support systems and have sought to improve that, many commentators feel disappointed at the end product. Arguably, the new system will not solve the problems encountered by many separated parents.
Whilst parents will be encouraged to agree matters, there appears to be little incentive on them to do so, particularly south of the border where they do not have the system of registered agreements we have here. For Scottish parents who chose to use registered agreements to regulate matters, that is often only a short term solution, since those can still be varied after one year if either party wishes to review the level of maintenance .
As variations can only be applied for where the NRP has an increase or decrease in income of 25%, that could result in unfairness to both the NRP and the PWC. For example the NRP may receive an increase of 24% of their income, yet not have to increase the level of maintenance. Whereas if the NRP suffers a decrease in income of 24% they still have to pay the same.
The system is appears to be set up for NRPs who are paid through the PAYE scheme, yet is not suitable for NRPs who are self employed and it is likely that the CMS will struggle to obtain accurate details of a self-employed NRP's true income for the purposes of carrying out an assessment.
We will need to wait and see how the new changes will effect separated families across the UK but in the meantime, parents should obtain legal advice before committing themselves to a maintenance agreement. More information can be found on the CMS website www.cmoptions.org.