May 23, 2014

Will single parents and children be the losers under new child maintenance reforms?

By Peter Jones, Founder and Partner

The government’s latest plan for parents to agree amicably to their child maintenance agreements or face a fee fills me with despair.

Under proposed new rules parents unable to reach a mutual agreement on payment will both be charged a fee if they ask the new Child Maintenance Service to intervene. The paying parent will have a 20% fee added to the maintenance payment while the receiving parent will have to pay 4% to ensure they receive the money to which they are entitled.

I am deeply concerned by this change and think that once again government is failing vulnerable members of our society when they are facing a crisis and most need support.

First of all separating couples are no longer eligible to claim legal aid for most divorce and child contact issues – now they are once again being targeted as the government seems determined to keep civil matters out of the court system.

Single parents – 95 percent of whom are women – will undoubtedly feel under great stress as they struggle to chase maintenance and have to pay money, which they probably can ill-afford, in a bid to receive their just payments. And, if they need advice and support about the new system, this will cost them £20 to use a service that calculates how much they are owed.

My other worry is that some single parents will be deterred from making new child maintenance claims, or could even settle for an inappropriate arrangement, resulting in their children losing out on vital financial support.

While the former Child Support Agency was indeed inefficient, at least it allowed parents take action against ex-partners who were trying to avoid their responsibility. Pension Minister Steve Webb’s argument that the CSA was using an IT system riddled with defects and costing £74 million per annum to run reveals the true reason why changes have been made.

He may state that parents need to be responsible for agreeing financial support for their own children support, but the reality is these changes have been made to cut costs and remove people from the child support system, which is in my opinion, the only place where these disputes can be properly settled.

Instead of targeting those already most disadvantaged and needy, the government should consult parents, family lawyers and other relevant third parties to come up with a system that ensures vulnerable single parents receive the support they deserve – and are entitled to.

Do you think that the new child maintenance policy is penalising those single parents most in need?  We’d like to hear your views and if you have any questions about child maintenance payments please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.