April 4, 2017

A solution to the child maintenance fiasco

By Peter Jones, founder of Jones Myers

The fact that the UK has a backlog of almost £3 billion in uncollected child maintenance payments has been compounded by the news that only a fraction of these arrears will reach those who most need them.

Around 1.2 billion people are said to be owed money – many having waited years without seeing a penny.

The National Audit Office reports that the Department for Work and Pensions has declared 75% of the money owed by parents as “uncollectable”. Only £366m of the remaining arrears are considered “likely to be collected”, with £527m deemed “potentially collectable”.

The vast majority of unpaid maintenance money – in many cases dating back more than 20 years – was accumulated under the Child Support Agency (CSA), which was set up in 1993 but replaced in 2012 after mistakes were made with assessments and absent parents were not tracked down.

Unfortunately its successor, the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS), doesn’t appear to have had much more success, with £93m of unpaid child support payments already building up under its watch.

In my opinion, this is a situation that is unfair on all concerned and should not be allowed to continue.

I remember pointing out six years ago that the Government should stop tinkering with the child support system and take a far more radical approach. Leaving decisions about who should pay what in the hands of bodies like the CSA and the CMS is a fast track to failure, as the last 20 years has proved.

I believe that it is in the interests of both children and their parents for the courts to rule on maintenance payments as part of the separation agreement. This then needs to be supported by an enforcement system that is economical to run and accessible financially for a parent to be able to access.

Instead, we have ended up with a system that claims to encourage parents to come to their own family-based arrangement but is in fact unsympathetic and formulaic in its assessments and ineffective in its enforcement.

That simply can’t be the right approach when the wellbeing of vulnerable children is at stake.

Child maintenance is currently payable for children who are under the age of 16, under 20 and in full-time education at A-level stage or below, or if they are under 20 and living with a parent registered for child benefit.

If we are to ensure that children receive this much needed benefit, a radical overhaul of the system – which will ensure fast and effective enforcement – is urgently needed.

For more information about any aspect of family law call the team at Jones Myers on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce