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Lords warn child maintenance charges are ‘unjustified in principle’

05 February 2014
Plans to start charging parents who need to use the new Child Maintenance Service were passed in parliament last night, despite a warning from former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay that the charges for single parents were ‘unjustified in principle’ [1].

Department of Work and Pensions minister Lord Freud faced a grilling from peers last night over regulations that will lead to the closure of all CSA cases over the next three years and fees for parents who need to use the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS). 

The government wants separated parents to come to their own private arrangements, without using the new government service. Crucially, it will be closing all existing CSA cases – almost one million of them – and says that charging to use the new service will ‘incentivise’ parents to collaborate in this way.

Lord Kirkwood warned that: “…condemning people to pay fees is contrary to natural justice, bad policy, and worst of all, inimical to the interests of the long-term future of many of our impoverished children.”

He added that he did not believe it was realistic that the new charges would result in parents collaborating to come to a child maintenance agreement, saying: “This whole policy is built on sand.”

The Department for Work & Pensions will introduce a £20 application fee to access the CMS and get a maintenance calculation [2]. If the other parent fails to pay maintenance, parents with care of their child face losing four per cent of every payment for their child in collection charges if the new service has to step in to collect the money.  Those parents who fail to pay maintenance will be charged an additional 20 per cent ‘collection fee’ on top of their children’s maintenance, which the government will keep.  

The new charges are likely to take effect in a few months’ time. By 2020/21, the government expects to be collecting £170m per year in fees from both parents [3].

When the plans were originally debated in the Lords in January 2012 the government suffered one of its heaviest defeats this parliament, with peers from all parties expressing their alarm at the prospect of charging single parents to access the CMS [4].

Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said: “It is deeply disappointing that the concerns of distinguished peers from all parties, and of course of single parents themselves, have been swept aside by government. Hundreds of thousands of parents will now face case closure and charges over the next few years.

“We are very concerned about the impact on children, for whom child maintenance is vital. The charges will bring added financial burdens to many single parent families who are already struggling, and pressure others into unstable private arrangements.”

Gingerbread is also worried that the case closure process, application fee and ongoing charges will discourage some parents from securing maintenance for their children. The government’s own predictions are that 100,000 CSA parents, currently due child maintenance, will simply give up and make no arrangements when their CSA case is closed [5].

DWP figures also show that one third (33%) of applicants to the CSA had a previous private arrangement that had failed.  Almost two-thirds (59%) either had no contact with the other parent or were not at all friendly, posing real challenges in being able to agree maintenance arrangements [6].


Notes to editors:
[1] Lords debate the Child Support Fees Regulations 2014, Tuesday, 4 February 2014
[2] The £20 application fee will be waived for victims of domestic violence, however, if they need to enter the collection service, ongoing collection charges of 4% will still apply.
[2] See Lords Written Answer 10/12/2013 col WA97
[3] The government was defeated by 270 votes to 128 in a key vote on an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill tabled by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor:

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