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Child maintenance enforcement fees criticised by family practitioners

Fees are a 'tax' and children will lose out, says Resolution

19 August 2014

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New enforcement fees for parents using the child maintenance service collect and pay system "will hit vulnerable families hardest", family law organisation Resolution has warned.

The new charges now apply to every child maintenance service collect and pay case, where a parent with care has asked the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for help collecting maintenance from a paying parent who has failed to make contributions towards their child's upbringing. The charges are calculated as 4 per cent deducted from the child maintenance payment received by the parent with care, and 20 per cent added to the child maintenance liability for the non-resident parent.

Stephen Lawson, Resolution family lawyer and member of its Child Maintenance Committee, says the enforcement fee is equivalent to a government 'tax'.

"The new charges mean that for every hundred pound assessment the paying parent will have to pay £120 but the receiving parent will only receive £96," he said.

"No one chooses to use the CMS enforcement option if they can come to their own agreement," added Lawson, "Penalising the parent with care for needing support to access the money they need to bring up their child is unfair - 4 per cent of each payment could mean a lot to a family that is struggling."

Resolution believes that the change will affect around 120,000 people across the UK.

"We're concerned that these new charges may put many parents off using the child maintenance service altogether. This means that children in vulnerable families may miss out on the maintenance support they need and deserve," said Lawson.

Jennifer Hollyer, a solicitor at Stowe Family Law, Leeds, said that the fear of being charged more would exacerbate already grave relations between separated parents. "[The threat] is going to cause more bitterness, dispute and intransigence," she said.

Hollyer agreed with Lawson in that although the fees appear minimal, they are disproportionate to financially vulnerable parents. "Every penny is essential," she said, "and by reducing the maintenance to the parent with care there will be an impact on the children at the heart of all this."

Hollyer and Lawson agreed that the child will ultimately suffer from the expense. "For some, this extra fee may be straw that breaks the camel's back," said Lawson. "Many of the people using the collect and pay service are on low incomes and these additional fees will impact on the amount received by the ultimate beneficiary - the child."

Hollyer said: "Something had to be done to improve the effectiveness of the CMS and to encourage parties to abide by their own responsibilities, but it is a concern that the charges to be imposed will impact the children and those struggling financially to meet their children's needs."

The new charges will not apply to parents on the Child Support Agency (CSA) scheme, but the Department for Work and Pensions is looking to close all CSA cases over the next few years. The CSA will write to parents when their case is to be closed so they have the opportunity to move to the new scheme or make a private agreement.

 

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Children