The Child Support Agency has recently been replaced with the Child Maintenance Service – the new department for taking care of all child support payments in the UK.
Read on for everything you need to know about the Child Maintenance Service, and how this might affect you and your family.
What is the Child Maintenance Service?
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is the new government department responsible for calculating all child maintenance payments between parents who are separated or divorced. The CMS can help you find out how much a paying parent needs to pay; track down non-resident parents (NRPs) and ensure the right amount of child maintenance is paid to PWCs (parents with care).
Parents already registered with the Child Support Agency (CSA) will continue to have their cases handled under the old scheme until further notice, at which point they will be transferred over to the new CMS scheme. All new cases, meanwhile, will be handled by the CMS.
Under the new scheme, parents will need to pay extra charges if they wish to have all of their payments arranged and processed by the CMS. The Department for Work and Pensions believes this will:
- Reduce official intervention regarding private family matters
- Improve communications between separated parents, with the hope of improving their relationship
- Enhance the quality of life for the children of broken families.
How Child Maintenance will be Paid
If you are a PWC (you take care of the child all or the majority of the time), child maintenance will be paid to you either directly from the other parent (if you choose to come to a private agreement), or directly into your bank account.
If the CMS is responsible for managing your payments via the Collect and Pay service, you will experience a 4% deduction in the amount of child maintenance received. The Collect and Pay Service is known as the Full Collection service for those registered with the Child Support Agency.
If you are a NRP (non resident parent), you will be the paying parent. You may pay child maintenance either directly to the receiving parent based on your own private arrangements; via direct debit or standing order, or via the CMS Collect and Pay Service.
If you choose to pay via direct debit/standing order, the CMS will take the money automatically from your earnings each month, or from your account. This is known as the Direct Pay service and it is free.
If you choose the Collect and Pay service however, you will be be required to pay a charge of 20% on top of each child maintenance payment.
If you are opening a new case with the CMS or are being transferred to the CMS from your old scheme, there are other options available to avoid paying the extra charges for Collect and Pay.
You may choose to come to a private mutual agreement with the other parent over how much child maintenance will be paid and how often. If you wish to come to a private agreement but do not know where to start, Child Maintenance Options is a free service that can point you in the right direct. Child Maintenance Options looks at the incomes and circumstances of both parents to determine how much child maintenance should be paid and when.
However, if you do not wish to speak to the other parent and/or are unable to locate them, the CMS can track them down and make any arrangements for payments on your behalf. This use of the CMS will require a £20 application fee, but there are many circumstances in which you may not need to pay. The CMS will be able to advise you on this.
Fees and Penalties
The new child maintenance scheme is designed to make securing child maintenance payments faster, easier and more beneficial for children and parents involved. As a result, there are a number of charges and possible penalties in place.
- Paying parents can be made to pay any backdated child maintenance they owe if necessary.
- Paying parents can be fined up to £300 if their failure to pay is found to be deliberate.
- Both parents, plus any employers or accountants involved, can be taken to court and/or fined £1000 if they fail to give information requested from them; fail to report a change in circumstances or give information they know to be false.
Changes to Report
Both parents are responsible for reporting to the CMS any change in their circumstances that might affect their ability to receive or pay child maintenance. These include:
- Address and phone number (including mobile number)
- Bank details
- Changes to income
- Changes to any other benefits claimed
- Number of nights a child spends with his/her other parent
- New employment or termination of employment (including self employment), and details that accompany these changes
- Number of children you are claiming/paying child maintenance for
- A child reaches 20, or 16 if they are not in full time education
- A child leaves full time education.
- Any changes to housing costs
- Changes to your partner’s income.[/box]
What Will Happen Next?
If you have already been collecting or paying child maintenance payments through the old CSA system, your case will soon be transferred over to the new system. You may have received a leaflet explaining how your child maintenance was calculated when you signed up and how it will be worked out under the new system. If you haven’t received one or need some help, call the Child Support telephone
When you are being transferred, you will be given the option of whether you wish to join the new Direct Pay method or remain with Collect and Pay. If you choose the latter, the admin fees outlined above will apply to each payment of child maintenance you pay or receive.[box]A £20 application fee may also apply to PWCs wishing to get a child maintenance calculation in cases where the NRP cannot be contacted. However, it is recommended that everybody has this initial calculation done as even those on the old system may qualify for payment now that the basis of calculation has changed.
The application fee can also be waived for victims of domestic abuse.
PWCs can also ask the CMS to look at a calculation again if they believe it to be understated.[/box]