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New child maintenance regulations come into force on 30th June

Single parent families penalized by maintenance rules, says child support specialist

New child maintenance regulations coming into force on Monday 30 June will mean that most parents making a new application to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will have to pay a £20 application fee. Single parent families will be penalised by new rules on child maintenance payments, according to Stephen Lawson, a specialist in child support disputes.

If the CMS continues to act as a go-between for parents to collect child maintenance payments, a 20% administration fee will be added to every amount collected. This means that for every £100 assessed, the non-resident paying parent will actually have to hand over £120. From this sum, the Government takes an administration fee of £24, leaving only £96 for the receiving parent.

To avoid the charges, parents can make their own private agreements or use the CMS service only to determine the level of maintenance. If they then set up 'Direct Pay' arrangements to their former partner or spouse, they will not be charged an administration fee.

Existing cases handled by the Child Support Agency will be transferred to the CMS over the next few years. The Government is giving people registered on the new CMS system just over a month to opt into the new scheme and clear any arrears. However if non-resident parents still choose to use the CMS's 'Collect and Pay' service or fail to settle arrears, the new fee will be added to every maintenance payment.

Stephen Lawson, head of litigation at FDR Law, believes these new rules will hurt those people who need the service most:

"These rules are designed to make people take responsibility for their own finances. Parents can avoid administration charges by making private agreements and paying every instalment on time.

"However in the real world, we know 'paying parents', for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes fail to make regular payments to support their children. Many struggle financially after the breakdown of a relationship and these new rules will make the task of supporting their children that much harder.

"Their former partners, usually mothers, will also suffer. They will receive less maintenance support and will now be penalised for a situation which is outside their control. The very parents who need extra help will be let down by a system designed to support them."

Gingerbread has a tool explaining the new system and what will happen to existing CSA cases on its website.

For an article by Jody Atkinson of St John's Chambers, Bristol, explaining the latest changes to child maintenance, please click here.