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Government child maintenance charging plans under fire

20 January 2012

Plans to charge single parents to use the future CSA, including up to 12% of any maintenance collected by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission are set to be challenged by a senior Conservative Peer next week on the final day of the Welfare Reform Bill’s Report Stage.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who as Margaret Thatcher’s Lord Chancellor introduced the Child Support Act 1991, has tabled an amendment that would exempt from the charges those parents who have no alternative but to use the statutory maintenance service, because private arrangements are not possible or appropriate.  The amendment is due to go to a vote on Wednesday 25th January.

The amendment would prevent the Government imposing the following charges on parents who turn to the statutory maintenance service because, without its help, their children would not receive fair and regular child maintenance:

• An up-front application charge levied on the applicant (overwhelmingly ‘parents with care’, around 97% of whom are mothers) in order to use the future new Agency. The Government is discussing a charge of £100 or £50 for an applicant on benefits.

• A ‘collection charge’ taken by the Agency from each maintenance payment it collects, in the range of 7-12% of the payment, before the money is passed on for the child/children.

There is a further ‘collection surcharge’ which the Government proposes to levy on the ‘non-resident parent’, additional to actual maintenance due, in the range of 15-20% of the maintenance liability, where the Agency has to step in to collect the maintenance to ensure it gets paid. This would not be affected by the amendment.

Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:

“We are very grateful to Lord Mackay for taking up this vital issue in the Lords, and the indications of support he has received so far show the high level of cross-party concern at the Government’s proposals.

“The Government plans to charge parents to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) in order to ‘incentivise’ them to instead make private arrangements. But in reality most single parents go to the CSA as a last resort - when they have to, not because they want to.  If a child’s other parent simply won’t respond or refuses to pay, these government proposals will penalise the parent with main care and her children.  That’s plainly unfair.“

“Single parents tell us that for many families these charges would mean going without basics like school uniforms, pulling children out of activities like sport or music, or even turning off the heating.

“We fully support efforts to help separated parents work together to deal with the financial, emotional and practical consequences of separation. But the government needs to realise that in very many cases that isn’t possible, and if charges are introduced then it will be children who lose out.”

Today a briefing has been sent to Peers supporting Lord Mackay’s amendment from a range of family and children’s charities and organisations concerned about child poverty including Gingerbread, Oxfam, the Mothers’ Union, the Children’s Society, and Child Poverty Action Group [2].

In a survey of their members, Gingerbread found that almost half (46%) of those using the CSA would not be able to afford the proposed fees, and almost three-quarters (72%) of those parents said they would have to go without maintenance altogether as a result [3]. Child maintenance made up 20% of household income for the lowest income single parents, and was mostly spent on essentials such as food, children’s clothes, and school costs such as uniforms and trips [4].


Notes to Editors

Case studies and Gingerbread spokespeople are available. For more information please contact Faith Dawes, Gingerbread Media Officer: 020 7428 5416 The amendment amends Clause 134 of the Welfare Reform Bill:

Clause 134, page 105, line 11, at end insert –

“(3) In Section 6 of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 (provision to allow charging of fees by the Commission) after subsection (2) insert –

‘(2A) Nothing in regulations under subsection (1) shall impose a liability on a parent with care for the payment of fees to the Commission where that parent has taken reasonable steps to establish whether it is possible or appropriate to make a maintenance agreement (within the meaning of section 9 of the Child Support Act 1991), and where, having taken such reasonable steps, it is either not possible or not appropriate for the parent with care to do so.’ ”

2. The briefing is available on request. The full list of signatories is: Gingerbread, Oxfam, TUC, Resolution, One Parent Families Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group, National Children’s Bureau, Citizens Advice Scotland, 4Children, Mothers’ Union, Action Against Violence & Abuse, Fawcett Society, Family Action, Platform 51, The Children’s Society, Women’s Resource Centre, Poverty Alliance, and Family & Parenting Institute.

3. Gingerbread report “Priced out - the impact of child maintenance charging”

4. Gingerbread report “Missing a trick? The role of child maintenance in tackling child poverty in single parent households”

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