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Mothers mount legal action against DWP over child maintenance ‘failures’

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A legal challenge has been launched by women over the “failure” by the Child Maintenance Service to collect payments, leaving single parents in financial difficulty, and in some cases, poverty.

Four women with the support of single parent charity, Gingerbread, social network site, Mumsnet, and the Good Law Project, will take legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

They have issued the DWP with a ‘letter before claim’, seeking a judicial review due to the “failure” by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to collect payment from the child’s non-resident parent.

It comes as figures reveal over 700,000 children are covered by these arrangements but around £354m is owed to children.

The letter states that 43% of children covered by the ‘collect and pay’ arrangement are not receiving a penny of the maintenance they’re legally entitled to. Of the £354m in arrears, just £31m has been collected through enforcement action. Further, despite 100,000 non-compliant parents and the enforcement powers the CMS has, just three passports were confiscated in 2019.

Charity Gingerbread said it is supporting the women as child maintenance is vital for separated families and the well-being of children.

Victoria Benson, CEO of Gingerbread, said: “It is a child’s legal right to be supported by both parents, and yet the service designed to protect this right is failing the children. Despite a vast array of enforcement powers, CMS have shown extreme negligence in actually using them, collected an amount worth less than 10% of what is actually owed. It simply cannot be right that a government service can continually leave children of single parents in poverty without being held accountable.”

Benson added that with the coronavirus pandemic, the problem is getting worse as CMS is running a skeleton service so payments aren’t being enforced and parents are allowed to reduce or withdraw payment without giving evidence.

“This has already resulted in more single parent families losing out on maintenance payment which quite simply, can be the difference between having food on the table or not. These children deserve better,” she said.

Justine Roberts, CEO and founder of Mumsnet, said: “Contributing towards the food on your child’s table and the roof over their head is surely the minimum basic standard for being a decent parent, which makes the low priority accorded to enforcing child maintenance payments close to inexplicable. As countless single parents on Mumsnet will attest, the effects on children’s physical and emotional wellbeing are profound. It’s long past time for the CMS to do its job.”

A DWP spokesperson, said: “While we cannot comment on current proceedings, those found to be abusing the system will find themselves subject to the full extent of our enforcement powers – including prosecution through the courts.

“We have introduced tough Child Maintenance powers to help ensure children receive the financial support they deserve, with 70% of Child Maintenance due in the Collect & Pay service successfully collected in the three months to March – up from 50% in 2016.”

The DWP added that in the quarter to March 2020, over £45m (70%) of ‘collect and pay’ Child Maintenance due was collected and paid to the parent with main care of the child. Over half of this was collected using enforcement powers.

The department also said the majority of Child Maintenance debt is historic Child Support Agency (CSA) debt (it replaced the service in 2018).

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