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MNHQ here: Parliamentary debate on the Child Maintenance Service - an MP wants to know your views

(120 Posts)
BojanaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 17-Jul-19 17:29:02

Hello

Parliament's engagement team have asked us to share details of an upcoming debate on the Child Maintenance Service. Here's what they say.

"Martyn Day MP argues that “the current Child Maintenance Service system is letting down many constituents across Great Britain – both paying and receiving parents. I would like all children to benefit from receiving maintenance payments that are consistent and compatible with the paying parent’s income level.”

"On Tuesday 23 July, he will lead a Westminster Hall debate on the effectiveness of the Child Maintenance Service. He wants to hear about your experiences to help inform his debate.

"Have you had a positive experience in your dealings with the Child Maintenance Service?
If not, what were some of the issues you faced?
What would make the Child Maintenance Service work better for you?

"We’ll pass your comments on to him and he may use your examples during his debate. We’ll post links to watch the debate and read the transcript when they become available on Tuesday 23 July.

"Please submit your comments before midday on Monday 22 July.

---

"Your name, and any information or opinions you provide, may be shared with Martin Day MP and used in a parliamentary debate which will be on the record and available on Parliament TV and Hansard. Please ensure that you are happy with your comment before sharing.

"To see our online discussion rules, please visit:

www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/taking-part-in-the-uk-parliament-social-media-community/"

nauseous5000 Wed 17-Jul-19 18:20:53

I feel that the advice you get from the CMS can be changeable given who you speak to. I know other people in my position who have been given wildly different advice to me on a near identical issue. I've now had 6 years of non payment and am told the onus is on me to prove ex is working- how exactly? I'd also like to say that many exes (men and women) cheat the system- it should be much easier for the resident parent to choose collect and pay if this means they don't have to deal with non payments and giving second chances, because the kids deserve better and many exes are abusive. I also think there should be legal sanctions for any parent who doesn't pay- not jail but certainly a consequence that makes them take note and continue to make excuses for non payment

IsItBetter Wed 17-Jul-19 19:06:28

Martyn Day of the SNP states "I would like all children to benefit from receiving maintenance payments that are consistent and compatible with the paying parent’s income level."

...But that is already what theoretically happens with the current system. The issue to me isn't with the underlying maintenance calculations and regulations, but with the misappropriation and misapplication of the rules that underpin child maintenance, along with dishonest paying and receiving parents. This won't easily be remedied.

The CMS are a nightmare to deal with. The organization is chaotic and incompetent. When you call them you might be speaking to an 18 year old new joiner, or a 60 year old who has been there since forever. They all have different opinions, and fail to follow up with the issue at hand, meaning that you will have to call back and speak to someone else with another opinion. They won't listen to (or misunderstand) what you tell them, and they take a very long time to reply and evaluate a change in circumstances (or indeed sometimes they don't reply at all). Many of the staff have transitioned from the old CSA, and don't understand the current regulations, basing many of their actions on what the receiving parent tells them rather than looking at evidence.

In my opinion, what needs to happen is:

- All CMS staff need to be retrained on what the current regulations are and how to apply them. They need to be tested and held accountable for their actions.
- There need to be SLAs (service level agreements) imposed on the service regarding responding to queries, reconsiderations, complaints, etc, via post, telephone and email
- The CMS website needs to be overhauled as it often doesn't respond / doesn't work / cannot upload documentation

The Child Support Maintenance Calculation Regulations 2012 might need to looked at again in some instances and language tightened, but overall I think the general principles underpinning it are fine.

IsItBetter Wed 17-Jul-19 19:08:25

Sorry I pressed send before I was meant to, but I also wanted to say that there should be a review of the cases that are going to tribunal and being won on appeal against the CMS.

This will reveal many of the organisation's current shortcomings.

Iwantacookie Wed 17-Jul-19 19:49:39

They haven't got a clue.
They told me they were taking money from exh account and paying me when he is in fact (when he wants to) paying me directly.
I've contacted them numerous times but keep getting told someone will get back to me.

His arrears seem to be disappearing yet he hasn't paid them off and I can't get any answers off cms.
I just want a regular amount per month for our son. Is that really too much to ask?

Flower64 Wed 17-Jul-19 19:51:24

I was frustrated by the sheer amount of time it took for them to track my ex down simply because he wouldn't answer the phone. They told me for four months they couldn't reconcile the address I was giving them (because debt collectors were after him and he refused to change it with anyone official). When they finally tracked him down he still wouldn't pay so after 10 months he finally wen onto deductions of earnings. However every time I've called CMS I have been given different information. I also have a real issue with their policy of arrears being paid only to the oldest case if the paying parent has more than one case open. His first ex has one child and was owed £900. I have two and was owed almost £2k. I wont get a penny off the arrears until hers are cleared. This is unfair to my children as they may never see that money.

ZillaPilla Wed 17-Jul-19 20:18:57

Where do I start.....

Today CMS told me my ex called them. Based on what he told them, the Collect and Pay which was just about to start was stopped. Apparently he said he would pay by standing order. He set that up and then promptly stopped it.

So CMS listen to the absent parent who has ignored all calls, messages, letters and emails from them, and my son still get nothing from him.

Puts me right back to how I felt during the years of emotional abuse.

I've been told they are looking into how this has happened and they'll get back to me. I don't believe it.

surlycurly Wed 17-Jul-19 20:57:27

My ex husband is self employed. He is, however, employed by a bank as a contractor and makes a fortune (in the region of 80-90k p/a). According to the CMS he owes me £67 a month for two teenagers. I have insisted they get his wage slips from source but they seem to work on the basis that his self declaration is adequate, rather than getting accurate info from his employer. Their advice was for me to report him to HMRC. Not what I expected from them, especially after paying them the fee to set up an account with them.

stucknoue Wed 17-Jul-19 21:29:57

As a parent of young adults I think it ridiculous that compulsory payments finish at 18, (not even when school ends which can be the following June!) and 50% continue to university. Continuing support until parental contributions end (25 I think) makes sense. Where a child has additional needs as mine does there should be no end date, I have my child for life, she's unlikely to be able to live independently.

PIPERHELLO Wed 17-Jul-19 22:28:52

The appalling reputation of the CMS meant I didn't even bother contacting them.

The lack of teeth and generally inefficiency of the CMS is one of the most overt examples of 'the system' working against women (the vast majority of single parents) that I believe exists in 2019.

The resultant frequent poverty and financial inequality this leads to has significant and very serious implications on the lone parents' career, ability to see friends / family, mental health, physical health.

PIPERHELLO Wed 17-Jul-19 22:29:40

What @stucknoue just said - massively agree. This:

* As a parent of young adults I think it ridiculous that compulsory payments finish at 18, (not even when school ends which can be the following June!) and 50% continue to university. Continuing support until parental contributions end (25 I think) makes sense. Where a child has additional needs as mine does there should be no end date, I have my child for life, she's unlikely to be able to live independently.*

Mummymummums Wed 17-Jul-19 22:46:57

The CMS fails badly where self employed people are concerned.
I also think that in a consent order within a divorce, patents should (with legal advice) be able to agree to opt out for longer than a year.

HappyLoneParentDay Thu 18-Jul-19 01:44:45

1) Staff easily admit that unless you call them weekly, your case is often left unactioned
2) Even with attachment of earnings orders, which is often branded as a 'solution' - it isn't! See next comment below as to why) When paying parent changes jobs, the process STILL takes a minimum of 6-10 MONTHS before you start receiving payments again!!!!!
Once the CMS have been informed that the paying parent has left their job, they then have to put what they call a 'Flag' on their file with the HMRC which will alert them if/when they are registered with a new employer. This takes 2 months minimum - usually 3.
Then, they write to employer to confirm. Employer is given 60 days to respond (if they don't - a further 60 days is automatically given without a blink). Then another attachment of earnings order is applied for & submitted to the employer. Provided the employer doesn't mess around, this is put into payment 3 months from the date it has been submitted to the employer.
3) This allows a nice 6-10 months of maintenance-free wages per job for the job-hopping Dads who are avoiding the system.

The very thing the CMS was created to solve is actually enabling the behaviour.

Also,
4) As touched upon above, every single person you speak to at the CMS has a totally different opinion, can & DOES override any progress you may have made with the previous person you spoke with and you end up with false promises and hours upon hours upon hours spent on the phone pointlessly & needlessly. (I genuinely likened it to a part time job at one point. When things were particularly bad I was spending 2/3 hours per day, several days per week, speaking to different people at the CMS after being passed around from person to person. It certainly wasn't always me calling them, either!!!)

For instance. - I was ^A^SSURED that my job-hopping ex had *Quote: "...well & truly passed the point of enforcement now. We're taking him to Court to apply for removal of his Driving Licence. Yes definitely. I'll be starting the process today, I'm your 'Case Manager' so I'll be the one putting the process in motion. This needs to be sorted and I'll be making sure it is..." End quote.

7 days later (Different person)
*Quote: "Absolutely not, we wouldn't be looking at enforcement at this stage madam. No I'm your new Case Manager and we won't be going for Court Action anytime soon" End quote.

XXWomenUnite Thu 18-Jul-19 01:49:23

1) There should be no upper annual salary limit to % payable by payee and that % should be calculated according to p60 on gross not net income. Current limit is woeful and high earning non residential parents are being actively encouraged by the system to create financial disparity between children they live with and those they don't. A limit makes no sense when the calculation is based on a % and not a fixed sum. Add to this all of the various loopholes available to reduce the net sum (not gross) used for calculating that % like increased pension payments, offshore bonus etc and the final amount is a joke in comparison to what is actually being earned. The CMS do not calculate using annual P60 either, they go off whatever the payee tells them so a couple of light monthly payslips for a high earner means an initial gross calculation that totally ignores the massive bonus they get every other month or annually. If you point this out they will still refuse to consult the P60 or address any disparity unless a 25% pay increase can be shown?!? The CMS have access to HMRC records as I understand it, they just utterly refuse to use the records. The CMS have registered my ex-husband as self employed, they will not correct this despite his having worked with the same large corporation for 2 decades. All of his paperwork is readily available with HMRC, I know this because I dealt with all of his paperwork for our entire marriage. When I offered to send the CMS copies of my ex-husband's p60s (sent to my solicitor as part of divorce) I was told they would not be accepted because I should not have that information. He is not secretive about how much he earns, he has increased everything he can to reduce his net income and omitted paperwork which is easily shown by HMRC (or the p60s I have), the CMS just will not do their homework. Madness.

www.gov.uk/how-child-maintenance-is-worked-out/how-the-child-maintenance-service-works-out-child-maintenance
If the paying parent’s gross weekly income is more than £3,000, the receiving parent can apply to the courts for extra child maintenance.

No they can't. Legal aid is non existent and in court the person who can afford the good lawyer wins, that'll be the person on over £156k gross then not the single parent trying to ensure fair maintenance payment for the child they must feed and clothe regardless. Even if a resident parent manages to get to court on this issue once and have it resolved in their favour the payee (who can afford a solicitor) can apply straight back to the court for a change so either way court is set up to favour the wealthier applicant.

Add to this the very strong likely hood that a high earning parent gets to be a high earner by designating the other parent as prime carer, (usually at the cost of their earning potential and career). Obviously this default continues after divorce except now the primary carer is broke and the high earner gets to pay considerably less towards the children as sanctioned by the government!

2) There should be no charges for residential parents, ever. Punishing children financially for a non resident parent refusing to honour their financial obligation is wrong. That's what those charges are since they are supposed to "encourage family-based arrangement", total logic fail.

3) There should be no reduction to the % gross calculated for further children living in the payee's household. Existing obligations should be met regardless.

4) The CMS does not address any disability or even terminal illness in the household of the child that maintenance is being calculated for. There is no dedicated department and call staff could not care less about terminal illness and no it isn't in the notes even though you went through the whole thing the last three times you called. The CMS will reduce the amount paid by the non resident parent if they have a disabled child in their household but will not increase the amount of maintenance due if the situation is reversed. Given the higher number of disabled children being raised by single parents and the drastic cut backs in services and funding available this needs to be addressed urgently by the government. Disabled children are more likely to need (for life) home schooling, hospital appointments etc impacting resident parent earning potential and less likely to be able to access mainstream childcare or have shared care with non resident parent. Yet the CMS makes no adjustment to calculations to reflect this instead leaving it to court which as mentioned above is unworkable.

www.dlf.org.uk/content/key-facts
The annual cost of bringing up a disabled child is three times greater than that of bringing up a non-disabled child

www.jrf.org.uk/data/poverty-rates-families-disabled-person
Disabled people’s poverty rates slowly decreased until 2009/10 to 2011/12 but this trend has reversed. Poverty is much higher for people in families with disabled members.

5) The CMS have the power to address non payment. They do not use it. They are entirely indifferent to the reason they were set up in the first place.

6) This is a sexist issue and needs addressed as such. 90% of single parents are women so this system which should be ensuring children are properly provided for is instead ensuring that society does not value women's essential unpaid work and men will not be held responsible for their children's wellbeing. This sexist attitude is further displayed by the woeful incompetence of the CMS in dealing with cases of domestic abuse and protecting victim's information continually putting women and children at risk.

www.gingerbread.org.uk/what-we-do/media-centre/single-parents-facts-figures/
There are around 1.8 million single parents – they make up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children

www.jrf.org.uk/data/persistent-poverty-family-type-2008-2015
The risk of persistent poverty varies greatly between groups, with lone parents at particularly high risk. One in four lone parents live in persistent poverty.

So 1.62 million women (27% with a disability) heading single parent families with the CMS their only viable recourse (now that legal aid is gone) and a quarter of those in persistent poverty yet child maintenance still goes unpaid – around £4 billion in arrears built up under the previous Child Support Agency.
www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/child-maintenance/

HMRC would chase tax arrears like that to ground!

HappyLoneParentDay Thu 18-Jul-19 01:54:38

What I believe needs to happen, is that when there are issues gaining regular payments, if any, from the paying parent, the CMS should be paying a minimum/base rate to the resident parent to enable the child's needs to be met. Then the CMS adding this to the paying parent's arrears. Even if this had to be means tested and therefore only available to those on a low/basic income? At least that way, the situation where children are going without for almost a year because of an absent parent absconding & relinquishing all responsibility, is avoided at the very least???

By their own admission, CMS arrears are classed as a primary debt of the paying parent (and quite rightly so). So with that being the case, surely this 'basic rate' to cover payment lapses, can then be added to this primary debt? Surely?

When I say minimum/base rate, I really only talking the CMS minimum of around £30 per week. £20 even?
When my ex was avoiding paying and job hopping, despite my pride, £20 a week would've provided nappies & milk for my baby and been an absolute lifeline. Literally in some truly sad cases.

Also avoids the staff at CMS taking the screaming & crying they endure regularly from understandably distraught resident parents who have just had to wait on hold an hour to be told they're suddenly not getting anymore money for their child..... Just a thought!!!!

XXWomenUnite Thu 18-Jul-19 02:00:52

That's a really good idea Happy.

Graphista Thu 18-Jul-19 02:18:05

Geez! Where to start?! I should start by saying my dd is now 18 and therefore no longer eligible for payments. What REALLY ticks me off is this has also meant that the money my ex owes her/me is no longer pursued! In 16 years he NEVER payed regularly or consistently and on several occasions didn't pay the full amount of the calculation. He was well able to do so he just begrudged it!

Have you had a positive experience in your dealings with the Child Maintenance Service?

I was mainly under csa who were a nightmare! I hoped moving to cms MAY improve matters - in reality it really didn't but that was partly I believe due to them knowing I soon wouldn't be their responsibility as dd was 15/16 at the time we transferred so there wasn't the motivation to help us.

If not, what were some of the issues you faced?

1 NEVER getting through to the same person twice EVEN when given a specific named person to deal with who I asked for - was constantly told they were unavailable which I am highly sceptical was actually true. It was a waste of my time and their resources to have to repeat a history of at least 14 years of ongoing issues with ex!

2 Depending who you spoke to the "advice" could change wildly! I was repeatedly told that even though someone more senior than the person I was speaking to had told me X could be done, the less experienced/knowledgeable call handler would tell me "we can't do that" - even if "that" was on the website and in reg's as something that COULD be done!

3 actions I was told would be happening weren't followed through or this was done ridiculously slowly.

4 attitude of some call handlers very poor - including attitude of those of us in receipt of payments should be unendingly grateful as if we were getting some kind of handout!

5 FAR too quick and easily accepting whatever nonsense paying parent tells them WITHOUT verifying! My ex claimed he wasn't working for over a year at one point when a cursory check with income tax would have (and eventually did) prove this not to be true.

Graphista Thu 18-Jul-19 02:20:08

What would make the Child Maintenance Service work better for you?

Bit late for me as I've said. What I wish would have happened?

1 A named case handler, a full time employee at cms who is contactable most of the time (excepting sickness, annual leave etc) to ensure continuity of service. This would reduce costs for cms as less time spent on phone "catching up" on a case, fewer complaints, fewer calls necessary all round. Would also ensure callers can develop a relationship with the case handler, understand their approach, and if a complaint did become necessary there's only one person to complain about and who's work needs investigating!

2 Quite honestly I think the current calculations lead to woefully low payment levels!

i The vast majority of the time they barely cover food costs for the child!

ii I also disagree with the current reg that a paying parent can reduce payments by

becoming a step parent (their biological parents should be covering their costs)

or by having more children (if you can't afford the ones you already have you shouldn't be having more - yet under current reg's, not just cms but also tax credits and other benefits this belief is applied to resident parents - mostly women - and NOT non resident parents) my ex has gone on to have several more children with wife 2 and reduced the payments every time he was able to - even though he could well afford the calculated payments and then some!

Graphista Thu 18-Jul-19 02:20:47

3 the LACK of enforcement is a joke!

Cms, as did csa, SUPPOSEDLY have sanctions they can take against non resident parents who don't/won't pay - BUT they don't use them!

My ex took full advantage of this and very quickly worked out how to time it all so that he didn't have to pay regularly BUT would pay SOMETHING (not always full amount) just in time to escape any sanctions! I honestly believe had I had a specific case worker who had an overall view of the situation then it is likely he would have had some kind of sanction applied. Very frustrating and made it impossible to budget. Quite early on I realised that I could not rely on his money
and worked my budget so that if he did pay it was a bonus but if he didn't we'd "manage" (admittedly the worst point was under csa when I was on benefits and maintenance was still included in benefits calculations, which at times meant I went without essentials - food, clothes, heating - in order that dd didn't miss out)

It takes FAR too long and too many non or late payments before enforced payment methods are brought in! Personally I'd have a "3 strikes" policy - and NOT consecutive either but total - if a non resident parent doesn't pay, pays late, or doesn't pay full amount then an attachment of earnings or similar should be instigated as soon as matters reach that point.

4 there are currently issues with the software that mean that when a non resident parent doesn't make a payment it isn't always flagged for follow up and indeed isn't followed up until the receiving parent calls up to say "where's the money?" Which is approximately 14 days after the non resident parent was due to pay. That HAS to be fixed.

Graphista Thu 18-Jul-19 02:21:15

5 There's currently no standard procedure requiring cms to check on paying parents income on a regular basis. My ex was armed forces for most of my daughters childhood. They get annual pay rises and sometimes additional bonuses for various things like hitting a certain length of service. But if I hadn't known this (and not all who have children with serving personnel would, I'm from a military family, plus those who've been married to them would know but not all co-parents have this knowledge) I wouldn't have known to ask for his income to be checked at pay rise time. An annual check in with HMRC income tax records seems logical to me.

Graphista Thu 18-Jul-19 02:21:38

It's a subject that comes up frequently on mn. So if I may I'd like to make general points/suggestions that would massively improve things for resident parents and most importantly children :

1 change the calculations to more accurately reflect the actual costs of raising children! 16% of taxable income is pathetic! And absolutely remove all the loopholes that can reduce payments - calculate on gross pay not net!

2 if cm was taken at source via hmrc the cms would barely be needed! There is absolutely no good reason why this can't be done, it can then be calculated based on the most current income information held by hmrc and deducting at source would eliminate many of the issues with payments/collections there are currently. This would deal with the outright liars (where I live there are even certain employers who provide false payslips showing that their employee is on less pay than they actually get - and yes this has been reported but continues to happen) pay rises, overtime, bonuses, job hoppers etc

3 close the loopholes that too many self employed non resident parents use to falsely claim they are paupers on less than nmw and therefore lowering calculations.

Lifestyle evidence should be checked and taken into account where they're pleading poverty - while living in a 4 bed detached property, driving flash new cars, having multiple foreign holidays and enjoying use of the latest tech!

4 tricky with brexit, but negotiate with other countries to better pursue non resident parents who leave the uk.

5 USE the sanctions that are SUPPOSED to be available to deal with non or erratically paying parents! Hit these selfish people where it hurts! Make it that it's more convenient for them to pay and pay properly and regularly and REALLY INconvenient for them NOT to!

6 My dd is now working full time at 18 so fair enough that I don't get maintenance now for her BUT I should still be able to pursue the 16 YEARS of frequently missed payments, the arrears of which have never been properly followed up (and last I checked was £1000's) AND I think if a child is still in full time education OR returns to full time education (as my dd is debating doing) before age 25 (which is when they're considered "independent" for further/higher education funding purposes) then maintenance for that time should be paid too.

Children with non resident parents shouldn't face barriers to accessing further/higher education as a result.

7 agree with Xxwomen unite that resident parents shouldn't be having to pay because the non resident parent is taking the Mickey and not paying!

Happy touches on a suggestion that's often made on threads discussing this, that if the state paid cm and then recovered those payments from non resident parents children would then be receiving the payments guaranteed and the majority of us I'm sure would agree this would massively motivate the govt to recover that money front the paying parents!

Unfortunately I think it unlikely but I really see NO reason why it can't be deducted at source by the income tax dept. This would mean the vast majority of payments would be collected, would eliminate issues of dishonesty and delays in calculations catching up to pay rises etc decent non resident parents who don't have a problem paying would find it very easy and convenient.

ExhaustedGrinch Thu 18-Jul-19 07:41:27

Have you had a positive experience in your dealings with the Child Maintenance Service?
No.

If not, what were some of the issues you faced?
The staff are lovely and polite but they couldn't get payments from my ex for over 5 years. My child is still only 8 years old yet they've written off ex partners debt, I guess they feel it's not worth pursuing as it only comes to around £1,500 in all the time he's meant to have ben paying. I know other people this has happened to too. I assume those with larger debts/payments are worth pursuing more? This penalises those who are likely to need the money most.

There needs to be tougher sanctions for those who don't pay. There are plenty of threats of action but I've never heard of them following through ie prison, loss of driving license etc

What would make the Child Maintenance Service work better for you?
Tougher sanctions and not dropping the debt because they believe it's unrecoverable. If the debt is dropped then there needs to be a discussion around when this should happen and what are the consequences for the party who hasn't been paying because as I see it there are no consequences.

OhamIreally Thu 18-Jul-19 07:41:46

I don't see the logic in discounting pension contributions from the gross amount on which the calculation is based.

Parents with care who are shouldering the vast burden physically and financially of raising children are unlikely to be building up a nice pension pot so it appears to be adding insult to injury to encourage absent parents to build up their ow at the expense of their children.

The issue of reductions for further children is one that upsets a lot of PWC but particularly pernicious is where the paying parent receives a discount for living with children who are not his.

NotBeingRobbed Thu 18-Jul-19 08:12:03

CMS money should continue until a child leaves full time education. I have two teenagers to see through university and I have to shoulder that burden alone. The cost of supporting a student is high - they do not cease being your child or needing an education when they turn 18. I earn enough to just about support them but morally their father should contribute too and doesn’t.

Arrears should be enforceable from date of separation, not from date of claim.

Most people have raised the issue of the self-employed who simply get away with lying. This needs addressing.

isitsummeryet1 Thu 18-Jul-19 09:21:13

I've had endless problems with my self-employed ex husband. He is now £18k in arrears, which the CMA keeps asking me to write off. I'm in massive debt due to having to fund the basics of having a child - something which we decided to do together. I feel my daughter has lost out on childhood experiences such as being able to join in after school activities, simply because I cannot afford to fund them.

Also, the chasing up of missed payments is a joke. My payment is due on the 19th, they allow him until the 30th to pay and only then they start chasing. This gap is massive and causes big cash flow problems.

I also agree that it is wrong that our payments go down when the absent parent goes on to have more children. It is not my fault (or my daughters) that he has had more children, children whom in many cases aren't met by the half sibling but are suffering financially because of them. The absent parent should continue to pay their standard contribution, and be made to cover the costs of their new child through their own finances.

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