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Changes to child maintenance

Child maintenance is going through some big changes. Below are the main changes that might affect you.

You can find more information on your options for getting child maintenance and using the Child Maintenance Service in our factsheets, and interactive advice tool on arranging child maintenance.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) is closing

The CSA is closing down and gradually being replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The process will take until 2018. It is no longer possible to claim child maintenance through the CSA – parents must apply to the CMS instead. Most parents are charged a fee for using the CMS. See here for more information about fees and charges.

If you currently use the CSA to receive child maintenance your case will be closed between now and 2018. CSA cases are not automatically transferred to the CMS, so when your case is closed you will need to apply to the CMS to receive payments through the new system. 

Parents are notified that their case is being closed by two letters. One is sent six months before your CSA case is due to close, and you will receive another letter reminding you one month before your case closes. The best time to act is when you receive your first letter.

You may already have received a letter, or you might not hear anything for a year or longer. This is because the CSA is closing cases in stages until 2018. Check the information below to see when your case is likely to close, and what you can do when you receive your case closure letter.

Case closure timetable: when will my CSA case close?

See our case closure advice tool for a quick guide to case closure and how it affects you.

I’m getting no child maintenance due to my child’s other parent’s low income

You may be getting no child maintenance because of your child’s other parent’s low income at the time they were assessed by the CSA. This is called a “nil assessment”. If your case was “nil assessed” you should already have received your case closure letter from the CSA. It’s important to remember that the CSA will not have re-assessed your child’s other parent’s finances before closing your case. If it’s an old calculation you may wish to ask Child Maintenance Options for a new calculation of your child maintenance, for example if your child’s other parent is now earning more money.

If you think your child’s other parent can now afford to pay child maintenance, you can apply to Child Maintenance Options for a child maintenance calculation. This is especially useful if your child’s other parent’s circumstances have changed. See our information about the new process for claiming child maintenance.


My child’s other parent should be paying child maintenance through the CSA. I’m not getting regular payments and the CSA have not taken action

If you have not been receiving regular child maintenance payments and the CSA were not taking action against your child’s other parent, then you can expect to receive your case closure letter between now and January 2016. If you have already received your letter you have two options:

  • Organise maintenance payments directly with your child’s other parent through a “family based arrangement”. See the Child Maintenance Options website for more information on getting a new child maintenance calculation and arranging payment with your child’s other parent. 
  • Apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). For more information please see our factsheet and interactive advice on using the CMS.

I am getting some or all of the child maintenance due

If you are getting some or all of the child maintenance due, and the CSA have not taken enforcement action against your child’s other parent then your case is due to close between November 2015 and September 2017.

You will receive a letter informing you of case closure at any point from now on, or you may have already received a letter telling you that your CSA case is closing. You need to act now if you have already received a letter and you want your child maintenance to be dealt with by the CMS. See our information on how to do this.

The CSA are taking enforcement action against my child’s other parent

If the CSA is taking action to collect your child maintenance then your case will be closed in 2017. You do not need to take any action yet but if you wish to read more about the CMS that will replace the CSA see our factsheet on using the child maintenance service as well as our interactive guide to the new fees.

My case is “clerical” or dealt with by the Bolton CSA office

Your case will be closed if it is a non-computerised or “clerical” case.  These cases have been closing since November 2015. You will receive a letter from the CSA giving you six months’ notice that your case is closing. You may have already received the first letter.

If you are receiving child maintenance through the CSA then you should contact child maintenance options to make sure that you either receive future payments directly from your child’s other parent, or through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). For more information see our factsheet and interactive guide on using the CMS.

Delays in maintenance payments after you transfer your case to the CMS

There may be a gap between your child maintenance payments, which could be up to six weeks or longer. This could happen even if you have acted quickly and requested that your case is transferred to the CMS as soon as you received your CSA case closure letter. This is because the CMS will only recalculate and start administering your child maintenance once your CSA case has closed, which could take up to six weeks.

The Child Maintenance Service - what's the difference?

There is a £20 application fee to use the service. You don't have to pay the application fee if you have experienced domestic violence ot you're under 18. There is more information on charges in our interactive guide The Child Maintenance Service and charges.

What do I get for my £20?

  • The Child Maintenance Service checks the income of your child's other parent with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
  • You get a maintenance calculation and a schedule for payments 
  • You're given information on how to arrange the payments directly between yourselves
  • You can access your child maintenance account online to track the payments
  • You will have an annual review - the Child Maintenance Service will check the income of your child's other parent with HMRC every year to make sure you're still getting the right amount
  • A collections service is available if you're not receiving your payments - but there is a charge for this.

When do you have to pay collection charges?

There are charges if the Child Maintenance Service has to step in to collect money from your child’s other parent and pay it to you. The paying parent has to pay an additional 20 per cent on top of the usual child maintenance amount, and your child maintenance amount is reduced by four per cent. If your child’s other parent pays the money directly to you, neither of you have to pay charges.

What about my arrears?

If arrears have built up whilst your case was with the CSA, and you choose to use the Child Maintenance Service, the arrears will still stand and can be enforced. This is also the case if you decide to come to a family-based arrangement or your child is now an adult – you're still owed the arrears.

The government has promised that Child Maintenance Service will be better at collecting arrears than the CSA. If you have outstanding arrears you might stand a better chance of getting them if you have a case open with the Child Maintenance Service.

For more Gingerbread information on child maintenance:

Quick interactive tools:

In depth guidance

We will keep updating our child maintenance information as details on the new scheme are released, so do keeping checking back or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.