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Hundreds of millions of pounds for children at risk under child maintenance reforms
More than £300 million in maintenance was collected for children from April to June this year (1), vital support which Gingerbread warns is at risk as the Child Support Agency (CSA) prepares for closure.
Existing cases with the CSA will be closed and parents will have to reapply to the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS), once case closure begins next year. Trials of the new scheme have already begun.
To reopen their case, parents will have to pay £20 up front and may face ongoing collection charges if the paying parent fails to pay and the CMS is required to step in (2).
Gingerbread is concerned that many single parents will drop out of the system altogether rather than struggle to find £20 to reopen their child’s case, face ongoing charges, or go through the process of reopening a difficult case.
Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: “The CSA is handling more than one million cases, all of which will be closed, no matter what the history of payments has been. This puts vital money for children in jeopardy.
“Child maintenance can and does make a significant difference to the lives of children, and lifts some of the poorest families out of poverty. It is wrong to put single parents through the worry and stress of case closure and the cost of paying to access the money their children deserve, particularly when they may have struggled long and hard to get maintenance paid in the first place.”
Gingerbread has also cast doubt on how the DWP reports the success of the CSA in collecting maintenance. This quarter the CSA has reported that 81% of its cases were ‘paying maintenance’ (3). However, this figure includes cases where any payment has been made in the previous three months, counting partial, irregular payments as ‘positive outcomes’ alongside those who pay on time and in full. In addition, more than a quarter (27%) of the cases it reports as a ‘positive outcome’ are ‘maintenance direct’ cases where the CSA does not administer payments and in fact does not monitor if payments are made.
The DWP is currently consulting on how it reports child maintenance collection, but a parliamentary question earlier this year revealed that the government already collects data on how many cases are paying in full and how many make only partial payments (4), yet it does not publish these figures.
Fiona Weir added: “Although the DWP has detailed figures on how well it is actually collecting child maintenance, it continues to publish misleading data that gives an incomplete picture of its performance.”
The data also shows that child maintenance arrears rose again to £3.867 billion in June, making it the third successive quarter when arrears have risen (5).
Notes to editors
(1) Child Support Agency: quarterly summary statistics, June 2013 Publication (28 August 2013) - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/series/child-support-agency-quarterly-summary-statistics--2
(2) The government is planning a collection charge of 4% deducted from the child’s maintenance for the parent receiving maintenance, and an extra collection charge of 20% on top of the maintenance due for the paying parent.
(3) Child Support Agency: quarterly summary statistics, June 2013 Publication (28 August 2013) - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/series/child-support-agency-quarterly-summary-statistics--2
(4) Hansard 15 April 2013, Parliamentary Question from Cathy Jamieson MP, Column 227W http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130415/text/130415w0010.htm#130415w0010.htm_wqn25
(5) Child Support Agency: quarterly summary statistics, June 2013 Publication (28 August 2013) - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/series/child-support-agency-quarterly-summary-statistics--2