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Child maintenance reforms target non-paying parents

Child maintenance reforms target non-paying parents
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

The Government has handed new powers to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to crack down on parents who refuse to make their support payments.

After a consultation in October, it announced that parents who do not pay their way will face “swifter enforcement action” to “make the system fairer for children and parents.”

As part of the reforms, the £20 application fee – to cover maintenance calculations costs – will also be scrapped from 26 February.

The changes allow the CMS to file an administrative liability order against a person who is behind on payments for their child, the number of which stands at around 10,000 parents.  This order means bailiff action or disqualification of a driving licence can be applied to non-paying parents.

Before that level is reached, the CMS can collect earnings directly from parents’ employers or another of the offender’s different bank accounts.

Application for CMS scrapped from 26 February

At present, it can take up to 22 weeks to obtain a liability order, for which the application needs to be made – and granted by – the courts. The Government’s move aims to speed up that process and give financial security to the nearly one million children who rely on the CMS.

Other amendments include the writing-off of debt worth less than £7, so caseworkers are not investigating smaller balances that would otherwise be closed.

The law will change “as soon as parliamentary time allows” in Great Britain, while some elements of the reform still need to be agreed on by the Scottish Government before the law is introduced there.

For parents unable to make payments and who have a reason for doing so, there will be a right of appeal to the courts against the administrative liability order.

Changes mean ‘poorest families can ensure children are properly provided for’

Mel Stride, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “We know the vast majority of parents strive every day to give their children the best possible start in life.

“But those who shirk the financial responsibilities they have for their children must be quickly held to account. That’s why we are fast-tracking enforcement from six months to six weeks – making the system fairer for parents and, above all, for children.”

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Minister Viscount Younger said:  “The Child Maintenance Service makes a real difference to the lives of over 900,000 children across the UK, with CMS and family-based arrangements helping to keep around 160,000 out of poverty each year.

“That’s why, alongside improving enforcement action, we’re removing the application fee so the Child Maintenance Service is accessible to everyone, meaning the poorest families can ensure their children are properly provided for.”