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Child maintenance enforcement fees will hit vulnerable families hardest, says Resolution

New report from Gingerbread highlights financial struggle for working single parents

The recent charges to the Child Maintenance Service Collect and Pay system, introduced on the 11th August, will hit vulnerable families the hardest, warns Resolution.

Stephen Lawson, Resolution family lawyer and member of its Child Maintenance Committee, said:

"We're concerned that these new charges may put many parents off using the Child Maintenance Service altogether. This means that children in vulnerable families may miss out on the maintenance support they need and deserve."

The new charges apply to every Child Maintenance Service Collect and Pay case, where a parent with care has asked the Child Maintenance Service for help collecting maintenance from a paying parent who has failed to make contributions towards their child's upbringing. The charges are calculated as 4% deducted from the child maintenance payment received by the parent with care, and 20% added to the child maintenance liability for the non-resident parent.

Stephen Lawson explained:

"The new charges mean that for every hundred pound assessment the paying parent will have to pay £120 but the receiving parent will only receive £96 – the Government takes a 'tax' of £24."

This change affects around 120,000 people across the UK.

Stephen Lawson commented:

"These charges will have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable families. No one chooses to use the Child Maintenance Service's enforcement option if they can come to their own agreement, and penalising the parent with care for needing support to access the money they need to bring up their child is unfair – 4% of each payment could mean a lot to a family that is struggling."

"The 20% additional charges for the paying parent are also disproportionate and may have a huge impact on the finances for hardworking paying parents. Couples who separate often find it difficult to financially manage with two households, and for some this extra fee may be straw that breaks the camel's back. Many of the people using the Collect and Pay Service are on low incomes and these additional fees will impact on the amount received by the ultimate beneficiary – the child."

Gingerbread, the support group for single parents, has similar criticisms of the newly introduced scheme.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said:

"The government's new charges will take money from children. Child maintenance makes a real difference to children's lives and it is simply wrong for the government to take this money because their other parent has failed to pay when they should."

The charges come as new research by Gingerbread finds that two out of three working single parents are finding their finances a constant struggle at best.

Parents can leave the collection service if the paying parent pays on time for a minimum period, and either parent requests to move to direct payments instead.

Gingerbread says that only around half (52 per cent) of separated families have a child maintenance agreement in place and the charity is concerned that the charges and impending case closure could mean even fewer children get the financial support they need. The government's own impact assessment predicts that 100,000 families will stop getting maintenance as a result of the changes.

Fiona Weir continued:

"It's really important that parents don't let the charges put them off getting a child maintenance arrangement in place. Lots of parents can and do sort out maintenance between them, but it's not always possible, and single parents shouldn't be put off asking for help when they need it."

Fewer than 60,000 parents are currently within the new CMS, but the government has already started the process of closing existing CSA cases and asking parents to try to come to a private agreement before opening a case with the new service. There are more than 1 million cases within the CSA, all of which will be closed over the next three years. The CMS has been taking on all new child maintenance cases since November last year.

14/8/14