Child Maintenance Service Fees criticised

Amanda Crowe - Barker Gotelee

Many separated parents may be aware that the old Child Support Agency has now been replaced by the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS), who’s focus is about encouraging separated parents to come to their own arrangements on child maintenance. Child maintenance is usually money that the parent without the main day-to-day care of a child pays to the other parent and the CMS can provide parents with a wealth of information and support in order for the parties to reach their own agreement.

However, if the parties cannot agree either party can make an application to the CMS for a formal assessment. The CMS is now charging £20 for this application. Once the assessment has been done and the information provided to both parties, hopefully they can then agree on how payments should be made and the paying parent will make a direct payment to the other parent.

However, if the parties need to use the CMS Collect and Pay service, the CMS will charge 20% on top of the money they are collecting from the paying parent, and will deduct 4% from the money they give to the other parent. The new charges mean that for every £100 assessment the paying parent will have to pay £120 but the receiving parent will only receive £96 – the Government takes a ‘tax’ of £24.

This Collect and Pay service has come under severe criticism by organisations including Resolution (an organisation of family lawyers and other professionals, committed to the constructive and non-confrontational resolution of family disputes) and Gingerbread (a leading support group for single parents). Both organisations have stated that these charges will mean the most vulnerable families may end up without any maintenance at all, as people cannot afford the fees. Gingerbread says that only around half (52 per cent) of separated families have a child maintenance agreement in place and the charity is concerned that the charges could mean even fewer children get the financial support they need.

The message to separating parents is that where at all possible they should try to come to their own arrangements with regards to child maintenance and how this should be paid. If no agreement can be reached the CMS is there to help but parents will need to consider the charges they will face for using this service.

Amanda Crowe is a divorce solicitor at Barker GoteleeSolicitors in Ipswich.

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