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Child Maintenance Service to charge parents with care a 4% collection fee

DWP publishes response to child maintenance consultation

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its response to the consultation Supporting separated families; securing children's futures on the draft Child Support (Fees) Regulations 2013 and the draft Child Support (Ending Liability in Existing Cases and Transition to New Calculation Rules) Regulations 2013.

The DWP has decided to reduce the fee payable by the parent with care in respect of maintenance collected by the new Child Maintenance Service from the proposed 7% to 4%. It says that, whilst recognising that the collection fee is controversial, it continues to believe 'it is vital to the functioning of a system that will deliver long-term benefits for children'.

Gingerbread, the charity supporting single parent families, says that since the 4% charge will be applied in cases where the Child Maintenance Service itself decides that the non-resident parent is unlikely to pay maintenance, and collection is needed, this means that single parent families will be punished for the other parent's failure to pay.

The charity added:

"The DWP's own survey evidence acts as a reality check on the chances of many single parents being able to come to an agreement over money for their children with the 'paying' parent. Of almost a thousand parents who applied to the Child Support Agency (CSA), six in ten (59%) were not in contact with the child's other parent or were not at all friendly; a third (33%) had already tried a private arrangement that had failed; and half (50%) had experienced violence or abuse at the hands of their child's other parent."

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said:

"Child maintenance makes a huge difference to children's lives, especially when many families are struggling to pay for the basics at the moment.  The risk is that the charges, combined with the closure of all CSA cases, will result in tens of thousands of families giving up on maintenance altogether and their children going without vital support."

The DWPR reports that respondents were largely supportive of the proposed approach to support victims of domestic violence through a declaration-based, application fee waiver. However, in response to expressed concerns, the DWP has extended the list of reporting organisations to include local authorities, legal professionals and specialist support organisations. It has also clarified the status and purpose of the self-declaration as being something that exists to remove a barrier to the statutory service and which does not accept or imply that any given party is guilty of abuse. The Child Maintenance Service will adhere to the cross-government definition of domestic violence, which includes financial abuse.

Amended draft Fees and Ending Liability Regulations will be laid before Parliament later this year. The charging of fees and ending liability in existing cases will subsequently commence later in 2014.