Parents who refuse to make child maintenance payments will face tougher penalties, the Government has confirmed.
New powers will be introduced to speed up enforcement action to make the child maintenance service (CMS) fairer.
This will mean that the enforcement process will be almost four times faster and anyone who does not comply with it will be “detected and dealt with more quickly”.
Before enforcement action takes place, the CMS will have the power to collect money from a parent’s employer or a different bank account under the new proposals.
The £20 application fee, which parents had to pay to the CMS when requesting help in recovering the money, has also been removed.
Child maintenance is paid when parents or carers do not live together. It’s usually paid out to the parent who lives with the child to cover their everyday expenses.
Work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, said: “Parents need to take financial responsibility for their children.
“It’s completely unfair that it can take so long to get children support they are due. I am determined to go after those parents who are refusing to pay up when we know they can.
“Child maintenance makes a real difference to the life chances of many thousands of children. The CMS can and does enforce compliance, but we want to enable it to act much faster.”
A ‘liability orders’ consultation has been launched to create new regulations to speed up the process of sanctioning those who refuse to pay child maintenance. It will give the CMS new powers to recover unpaid money within six to eight weeks.
Currently, the CMS has to apply to the courts and wait up to 22 weeks if child maintenance is not paid. The Government said around 10,000 parents a year willfully refuse to pay the money.
The Government is also planning to add unearned income, such as savings, investments, dividends and property income into child maintenance calculations. It said this will make it more difficult for the small number of parents who avoid paying the correct amount.
The news of proposed tougher sanctions was first announced earlier this year. It follows an investigation by the National Audit Office, which showed that the proportion of separated families without any child maintenance arrangement nearly doubled from 25% in 2011/12 to 44% in 2019/20.
Earlier this year the list of companies and organisations required to provide information to the CMS if it needs to find a parent and trace missing payments was expanded so it could calculate maintenance and enforce arrears more effectively.
£1.2bn paid between June 2022 and 2023
There are around 3.6 million children from 2.4million families in the UK where one of the parents does not live with the child.
CMS is an arrangement between parents or guardians to cover the child’s living costs. It can be a private ‘family-based arrangement’ between the parents, or made through the CMS run by the DWP.
If it’s through the CMS, there is a ‘Direct Pay’ option where a fee is charged and the child’s payments are calculated. Parents then have to transfer this money between themselves.
There is also a ‘Collect & Pay’ option, where DWP charges more to calculate the payments, collect the money and transfer the money to the receiving parents.
The CMS said there are around 930,000 children in the CMS, a 10% rise on June 2022. Between June 2022 and 2023, £1.2bn was made through the CMS. The majority of those paying child maintenance are men, and the majority of those receiving it are women.
DWP minister, Viscount Younger of Leckie, said: “We always act fairly and carefully to protect children in separated families so they are supported by both their parents to have a good start in life.
“These new powers will improve how the Child Maintenance Service supports children of separated parents, helping families receive child maintenance faster and preventing further arrears.”
The consultation will close on 24 November and follows on from the Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023 and The Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Act 2023 which both received royal assent in the summer.