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‘Child Maintenance Service loopholes deny children the support they deserve’

Gingerbread publishes report on CMS failings

The child maintenance system is failing to ensure children receive the appropriate level of support they are entitled to, according to a new report by Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families.

Children deserve more details how, in too many cases, loopholes in the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) mean that non-resident parents are paying a fraction of what they should. The CMS is supposed to calculate and, when necessary, enforce the payments that children need. But the report argues that recent reforms have instead prioritised administrative convenience over all other concerns. This has led to a situation, says Gingerbread, where desperate parents are repeatedly being let down by a system that seems designed to be as unhelpful and opaque as possible.

In particular, the charity says that the decision to base the child maintenance calculation on gross taxable earnings or profits as reported to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has had widespread repercussions. One common issue is that paying parents with often considerable assets can end paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income are not taken into consideration. In other cases, self-employed parents are able to get away with under-reporting their income in order to reduce their payments.

Ironically, the CMS was set up to replace an ailing predecessor, the Child Services Agency (CSA), which was shut down due to being widely regarded as not-fit-for-purpose. But for a significant minority, the new method of calculating child maintenance is still not working.

The new, inadequate method of calculating child maintenance payments is only half the problem, according to the report. Parents who believe they are receiving less than their children's entitlement frequently complain about being stonewalled by the CMS, or being kept in the dark about their options. Since the calculation is based on HRMC information, single parents often find themselves being passed back and forth between the two organisations, with neither taking responsibility for re-evaluating the calculation.

Gingerbread Director of Policy, Dalia Ben-Galim, says:

"Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires. But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It's not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely."

Welcoming the report, National Family Mediation CEO Jane Robey, said:

"At present the system encourages separated parents to play 'cat and mouse' with each other and with the Child Maintenance system. The net result is poorer children. Parents need to be given a genuine opportunity to try and speak with each other about the vital money matters that affect their child's future after separation. Agreements can be made in family mediation, and we know they are much more likely to work for everyone involved. Parents who work together after separation focus their efforts on helping their children prosper despite their separation.

"The report indicates a range of measures are used by some parents to deny their children support they're entitled to. Whatever tactics they employ the outcome is poorer children, denied the support that is theirs by right at a time they most need it.

"Government backing for greater use of family mediation would help save hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money. We support calls for the new government to outline a strategy to tackle this huge problem. We are ready and willing to add our voice and expertise to the new approach that is so badly needed."

For the full report and executive summary, click here