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Dramatic drop in parents applying for child maintenance help as charges begin
New government figures indicate thousands of parents are choosing not to seek help from the new government Child Maintenance Service because of new charges brought in this summer, warns Gingerbread.
The figures, published this week (30 September), show for the first time the impact of the £20 application fee to use the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which is gradually replacing the Child Support Agency (CSA) .
3,700 fewer parents applied to the new CMS in August than in May this year, after charges were introduced on 30 June, a drop of 38 per cent .
Although it is early days since the application charge was introduced, this is three times the 12 per cent drop in applications to the new service that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had predicted as a result of the £20 fee .
Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said: “At the moment, only two-fifths of the UK’s two million single parent families receive child maintenance payments from their child’s other parent . We warned the government that the charge to access the new service could make this situation even worse. These early figures seem to confirm our fears.
“Children in single parent families are already twice as likely to live in poverty as those in couple families . The government should not be putting barriers in the way of the three million children growing up in single parent families getting the support they need and we urge the DWP to drop the charge.”
The charity is also calling on the DWP to publish data it is collecting on how many of the parents who, after calling the government Child Maintenance Options helpline, decide not to apply to the CMS, then go on to successfully make their own child maintenance arrangements .
Fiona Weir added: “We don’t know yet whether the parents put off by the £20 charge are going on to make arrangements on their own, or are just giving up. The government must be transparent about the impact its reforms are having.”
All new child maintenance cases are now handled by the CMS instead of the CSA and all CSA cases are gradually being closed, with parents facing fees to reopen their case with the CMS. The government wants to encourage as many separated parents as possible to come to their own private arrangements, but Gingerbread has warned that for many who have experienced relationship breakdown this simply isn’t realistic.
For more information about the changes to child maintenance, go to www.gingerbread.org.uk.
Notes to editors
 The parent applying to the CMS (typically the parent with care) pays a £20 fee to open a case. This gives them an official child maintenance calculation, with a letter sent to them and their child’s other parent confirming the amount that should be paid and how often, which is reviewed annually. It also means that they have an official case, and if the paying parent fails to pay, he or she can be reported to the CMS and the CMS can step in to collect unpaid child maintenance. There are additional collection fees if this service is needed. These collection charges – 20 per cent extra for the paying parent and a four per cent deduction from maintenance from the parent with care – were introduced on 11 August 2014. The £20 application fee is waived for victims of domestic violence, but collection charges are not.
 In May 2014, when the previous quarterly CMS statistics were published, there were 9,700 applicants to the new service. The latest statistics show that in August 2014 there were 6,000. DWP (2014) 2012 statutory child maintenance scheme: Aug 2013 to Aug 2014.
 DWP (2013) Child maintenance reforms: CSA case closure, introducing CMS fees, supporting family-based arrangements, Impact Assessment DWP0031.
 Less than two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent. DWP (2010) Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and Children Study, Table 15.1.
 DWP (2014) Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13.Table 4.14ts.
 The government Child Maintenance Options service encourages parents to make their own ‘family-based’ maintenance arrangements, rather than using the statutory Child Maintenance Service. All parents wishing to apply to the CMS must first obtain a reference number from Child Maintenance Options. This will only be issued once a parent has had a telephone conversation with Child Maintenance Options, concerning their child maintenance choices. The DWP is currently conducting quarterly surveys of parents who have previously called Child Maintenance Options, to ascertain the child maintenance outcomes which have subsequently resulted. These have not yet been published.