January 27, 2012

Pay up or no payout – would you pay the CSA?

Should parents who split up be forced to pay for the ‘privilege’ of having their child maintenance issues resolved?

The government plans to charge single parents for using the services of CMEC, the body that oversees the Child Support Agency (CSA), in an effort to position it as a last resort after all other avenues for reaching an agreement have been exhausted. This move, like any other made in relation to the CSA, has prompted an emotional response from several quarters – not least former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern who has openly opposed the proposals.

In the year to December 2011, the CSA collected or arranged almost £1.2billion in maintenance, a tenth of which was arrears. However this only accounted for 78 percent of cases in which maintenance was due; what of the remaining 22 percent? And what of the hidden impact of the CSA’s enforcement activities, which have included raising over £2million by seizing and selling absent parents’ properties.

The CSA is no stranger to controversy and, as usual, the latest announcement has polarised opinion. Here, Jones Myers partners Fiona Kendall and Peter Jones endeavour to make sense of the situation.

Fiona says: “Despite a defeat in the Lords, the government intends to reverse the decision in the Commons, limiting CMEC access to those couples who can’t reach agreement about maintenance.

“Since there aren’t any couples using CMEC just for fun, this is a pointless exercise. The CSA is a last resort for situations where parents cannot agree the appropriate amount or, more often, the paying party has a less than helpful attitude to their financial responsibilities.

“Granted, CMEC relieves most of the burden on our courts from dealing with maintenance claims, and some would argue there should be a charge. But who should pay? The defaulting parent? Both parents in equal shares? And how is payment made when parties are either short of funds or unwilling to pay at all – the very reason they have ended up at CMEC’s door? It is an unnecessary complication within a system that is already unwieldy and uncompromising.”

Peter Jones takes no prisoners with his assessment. He says: “It is about time that the Government stopped tinkering with or trying to re-invent this flawed method of calculating and enforcing child maintenance payments. It is almost 20 years since the CSA was launched, during which time it has been relaunched and finally absorbed into CMEC, with no evidence to indicate why it should be any more successful this time around.

“In the interests of every separated parent and their children, it is vital that we retune to pre-CSA days and leave the matter in the hands of the courts. The CSA’s focus is on enforcement and we should give no quarter to an unsympathetic and formulaic approach where vulnerable children are concerned.”

Do you agree with Fiona or Peter, or do you believe that CMEC is within its rights to charge for the CSA’s services? Tell us below or email us here.