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Proposed New Enforcement Powers for the Child Maintenance Service

One area that separating parents can often struggle to reach agreement on is arrangements relating to the living arrangements and financial support of their children. 

The Government encourages all separating parents to come to a private arrangement with regards to any child maintenance to be paid, but where this is not possible, parents can apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to have a payment arrangement put in place.

The Child Maintenance Service was established in 2012 to replace the old Child Support Agency (CSA). It has been criticised for not doing enough to ensure that these payment arrangements are adhered to, and so the Government has been looking at ways to strengthen the enforcement actions the CMS can take.

Stronger Compliance Measures

It recently launched a consultation exercise in which it is seeking views on options to give the CMS stronger compliance, collection and enforcement methods to make sure parents are meeting their responsibilities towards their children.

The proposals put forward include:

  • improvements to child maintenance calculations and new compliance measures,
  • stronger collection and enforcement measures,
  • a request for further ideas on collection and enforcement, and
  • how to deal with the historic debt that accrued on Child Support Agency (CSA) cases.

Recovering Maintenance Arrears

The Government has already taken steps to strengthen the enforcement actions available to the CMS.

In October this year it announced that new laws would be introduced to allow deductions to be made from joint accounts in order to recover child maintenance arrears.

Currently, if a parent owes child maintenance, deductions to recover that debt can only be made from a bank or building society account held solely by them. So a small minority of parents are cheating their way out of supporting their children by putting their money into a joint account with a partner.

The Government believes that introducing new legislation to close this loophole will stop a number of parents getting away with not paying their child maintenance each year – leading to more than £390,000 additional child maintenance being collected.

The new powers will come into force early next year, and will include several safeguards to protect the other holder of the joint account, including:

  • a deduction order only being imposed on a joint account when the paying parent does not have their own account, or there is not enough money in their own account,
  • only funds belonging to the paying parent being targeted, as before a deduction order is made on a joint account, data on that bank account will be collected and bank statements examined to establish which money in the account belongs to the paying parent,
  • existing safeguards already in place for deduction orders for child maintenance will apply to this new power, including the maximum deduction rate on regular orders being set at 40% of the paying parent’s weekly income, and
  • both account holders will be given the right to make their case before a deduction order is made.

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Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

 

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