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Home Policy and campaigns Campaign with us Maintenance matters Child maintenance - because children don't come free
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Child maintenance

Because children don't come free.

What is child maintenance?   

When parents live apart, they still have a duty to financially contribute so that their children have an adequate standard of living. This financial contribution is known as child maintenance, and is expected from the parent living mainly apart from their child, paid to the parent with main day-to-day care. Child maintenance provides vital help with the costs of raising a child – from the day-to-day expenses of food, clothing, travel, and school expenses, to the costs of running a child's main home and giving a child a decent quality of life.  Money isn’t everything, but children don’t come free.

How it works

Parents are free to agree their own child maintenance arrangements with the other parent, if they can. But much depends on individual circumstances.   

If parents can’t agree, they can use the government’s Child Maintenance Service, known as CMS. The CMS is there to ensure that parents financially support their children. It offers:

  1. A basic service where, for a fee of £20, parents get a child maintenance calculation based on the paying parent’s income (as provided by HMRC).
  2. As long as payments are made regularly between the parents, they are left to get on with it. If payments are missed, the CMS can then offer more support. But this is only if they’re asked – they will step in to collect the child maintenance due and any missed payments. However, both parents have to then pay a collection fee, with the parent who is due to pay paying more.

Find out more about child maintenance.

What’s changing?  

The child maintenance system is changing. Between 2015 and 2018, the previous, much criticised Child Support Agency, known as CSA, is being shut down. This means that parents still with the CSA must decide whether to use the new CMS in future, or make their own child maintenance arrangements instead. The main differences are:

  • There is more encouragement to sort out your own child maintenance;
  • It costs £20 to apply to the CMS for a calculation (the CSA was free);
  • The CMS now use income data from HMRC to make a child maintenance calculation, and update the calculation every year;
  • Parents are expected to pay the maintenance due between themselves, if possible;
  • The CMS will only collect maintenance from the ‘paying’ parent, if there is non-payment and the ‘receiving’ parent asks the CMS step in. New collection fees apply (see ‘how it works’ above).

Find out more about how the child maintenance service is changing.

Big concerns

  • Not enough is being done to promote the importance of child maintenance for the well-being of children. Less than half of separated families in the UK have an effective child maintenance arrangement in place. More needs to be done to support parents to make whatever arrangements work best in ensuring that their children receive proper financial support from both of them. 

  • We don’t agree with the governments's “one size fits all” approach where it's believed best for both parents to fix child maintenance between themselves. In the real world, different families need different solutions. That's why we think it is wrong that parents are being deliberatively put off using the new child maintenance service (CMS). The CMS is an important part of the picture in ensuring children get the child maintenance they need. 

  • We don’t think single parents should have to pay to apply to the CMS, nor should they be charged collection fees if the CMS has to step in because the other parent has failed to pay. The risk is that parents are put off using a service they vitally need.

  • The new system is not working well in dealing with those self-employed ‘paying’ parents who try to avoid their financial responsibilities, or fail to declare their full income to HMRC.

  • Not enough resource, energy and expertise is being put into child maintenance debt collection including collecting outstanding CSA maintenance still owed for children.  



Why it matters

Children living in single parent families are twice as likely to be living in poverty compared to children in two parent families. For many single parents, juggling work with caring for children means their income suffers. Surviving on just one income is another factor. 

The financial contributions from each parent towards their child's day-to-day costs can make a huge difference. Child maintenance lifts one in five single parents out of poverty when it is received, according to our research

Child poverty is predicted to almost double among single parent families over the next few years, so regular financial support for children from their other parent matters more than ever, particularly due to changes in tax and benefits.

What we’re doing

We’re working hard to ensure that more children in single parent families get the child maintenance they deserve.

Alongside the advice we offer individual single parents, our work on this issue includes: 

Campaigning to get a fairer system. We’re working with parliamentarians, policy makers and the media to highlight the need for change. We’ve already been successful in getting child maintenance ignored in benefit calculations; a reduction in fees for single parents using the child maintenance service; and a switch to a Freephone number to ring Child Maintenance Options

Producing research, reports and briefings to spell out the reality of child maintenance for single parents and their children, and the problems they encounter 

Keeping track of what’s happening and giving feedback to policy makers, including responding to government consultations and giving evidence to parliamentary committees

Championing single parent voices to ensure that politicians and policy makers listen to the voices and concerns of single parents. 

Find out more about child maintenance.

Join our new campaign Maintenance matters

Maintenance matters is our new child maintenance campaign calling for a fairer charging system and zero-tolerance on non-payment. Find out more about Maintenance matters.

Please join us and take action by sharing the campaign on social media. We need your help to make a big noise about this issue!

To receive updates and ways to get involved in the campaign please make sure you're signed up to our campaign mailing list

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