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£3 billion of child maintenance arrears are ‘uncollectable’

National Audit Office reports on closure of 1993 and 2003 child maintenance schemes

The National Audit Office has published the findings of its investigation into the Department for Work and Pensions' closure of its 1993 and 2003 child maintenance schemes.

The 2012 child maintenance scheme was introduced to resolve problems with the earlier schemes and encourage private arrangements. Since November 2013 all new applications have been made to the 2012 scheme. The Department began to tell parents in 2014 that their 1993 and 2003 scheme cases would close and that they would have to apply to the new scheme, or make their own family-based arrangements. It plans to end payments on 799,000 cases with continuing child maintenance by December 2017, and then close these cases and a further 588,000 where continuing maintenance payments are no longer due, but arrears have built up. Some parents told the NAO that closing long-standing 1993 and 2003 scheme cases can be disruptive and lead to confusion about the amount owed.

The NAO's key findings are:

Commenting on the report, National Family Mediation CEO, Jane Robey, said:

"The scale of proposed write-off of unpaid child maintenance payments is alarming. Thousands of children up and down the country are deprived of a better quality of life as a result. Family based arrangements are by far the best answer when a relationship ends. But government intervention, by the way of child maintenance arrangements, is far less necessary than many people – including government Ministers – believe.

"Agreements can be made in family mediation, and we know they are much more likely to work for everyone involved, because parents themselves have had control of the vital finance decisions that shape so many aspects of their future lives. Parents who work together after separation focus their efforts on helping their children prosper despite their separation.

"The government is again missing a trick by not promoting greater use of family mediation, which would help save hundreds of thousands of pounds of precious taxpayers' money."

Janet Allbeson, senior policy adviser for Gingerbread, commented:

"The government's approach to winding down the CSA is a smokescreen for a desire to turn the page on the past. Too little was done in the past by the CSA, and now too little is being done by the new Child Maintenance Service to collect outstanding debts.

"The government says it is offering receiving parents a "fresh start" by suggesting they write off the debts their children are legally entitled to; but as the NAO point out, there is no parallel suggestion to paying parents that they too make a fresh start by paying off the arrears they owe.

"In light of the new report, we urge the government not to abandon CSA maintenance still due to single parent families, and to provide more clarity on progress. This is money that can make a real difference to children's lives."

For the full report, click here. For a summary, click here.

28/3/17 (supplemented 30/3/17)