Guest post: 'We overhauled the Child Support Agency precisely because it wasn’t working'
Baroness Stedman-Scott is the new Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in this guest post she answers ten common questions about child maintenance
Posted on: Thu 03-Oct-19 14:02:16
(133 comments )
1. Does the service actually use the powers it has to make parents face consequences for non-payment?
Yes. As many of you know, we overhauled the Child Support Agency precisely because it wasn’t working. Over time we have made our consequences tougher and importantly, we are using them more and more.
The powers we can use include deducting money from the non-paying parent’s earnings through their employer and accessing funds from bank accounts, including joint accounts. We can register the debt with a credit reference agency, which can impact their credit rating and ability to get a mortgage. We can also grant court action for liability orders, which means Enforcement Agents could come and sell their property to pay unpaid maintenance and any costs. If that doesn’t work, we can also disqualify them from driving, confiscate their licence, take their passport away, or send them to prison.
Because of the changes we have made, our service is improving year on year - and the numbers show we are using the powers we have to help families. The amount of maintenance arranged for the benefit of children has increased by 20% compared to last year, and £1 billion of maintenance is expected to be arranged this year alone.
Currently, there are 48,300 deductions from earnings orders and requests in place; and 3,500 regular and lump sum deduction orders in place. During the quarter ending June 2019, £26.1 million was collected from parents undergoing a deduction from earnings order or request; and £2.9m was deducted directly from the paying parent’s bank accounts.
2. How much effort do you put in to finding a non-paying parent?
A huge amount. We can use all kinds of sources to find an individual, from HMRC records to someone’s phone bill information. We’ll do everything we can to contact them and contact their employer if we need to.
If we’ve made reasonable attempts to contact them and given them enough chances to pay, we can start enforcement measures using just their address - regardless of whether we’ve been able to talk to them or not.
Before that point, we’ll use our administrative powers to encourage them to pay, such as the deduction from earnings order (if they are employed) or a deduction order, where we can freeze and collect money from a bank account that we have evidence they use. If this doesn’t work, we’ll move on to tougher legal action.
3. How does it work when non-paying parents have other children they owe maintenance for? How does that affect what my child will get?
We split the payments on a pro-rata basis so no child is favoured over the other.
These calculations seem complicated because they involve three households: yours, the other household with children, and the paying parent. You can use our online calculator to work out how much you should be getting. It’ll show you what we’re likely to work out for you.
How many children the paying parent has affects how much they pay you for your child. How much they earn is taken into account to make sure they can afford it, and reflects how much they’d pay for their child if they were living with them. For example, if the paying parent is on the basic rate of child maintenance, then how much they have to pay you depends on how many other children they’re paying for as well. So, in this case, if paying parent is paying for one child, then they’ll pay 12% of their gross weekly income. If there’s two children, they’ll pay 16%, and three or more children is 19%. This is assuming that your child stays with you all the time.
We're continually looking at our service to make sure we're delivering the best we can
4. Some parents are using job-hopping to avoid paying. What are you doing about that?
If a parent changes jobs, unless their income goes up or down by 25%, the maintenance calculation will remain the same until the annual review – but rest assured that we have access to real time earnings information from HMRC to verify current income figures.
If you’re concerned about the paying parent deliberately job-hopping to avoid paying, you can request a mandatory reconsideration where your maintenance calculation will be reassessed and their earnings are looked into in more detail.
It can be difficult to get a small minority of parents with complex incomes to comply. That’s why we have a new compliance and arrears strategy, which includes proposed changes to target loopholes.
This is in addition to working more closely with HMRC and dedicating more resources to the specialist financial investigation unit, who have the power to look more closely into individual circumstances to see if parents are actively avoiding their responsibility.
We can’t force a paying parent to stay in a certain job, and people who do job-hop are difficult to pursue. But we’ll use every power at our disposal to get them to pay for their children.
5. Some parents use self-employment to hide their earnings and pay less. What are you doing about that?
If someone suspects their ex-partner of avoiding paying child maintenance, fraud, or not declaring their earnings, they should inform us straight away so we can refer the case to our Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) and investigate the situation fully.
They can check the accuracy of the information that the paying parent has given the CMS. When it comes to assessing how much a self-employed person should be paying, we receive their gross income and gross taxable profit of their business for the most recent tax year from HMRC – and they can charge penalties for inaccurate reporting if the FIU finds out that tax hasn’t been paid.
6. What about parents who deliberately aren’t registered as UK taxpayers, but have a home in the UK?
We’re aware of a small number of parents whose payments don’t match up with their finances and resources, because they can choose to support themselves via a complex arrangement of assets rather than taking a salary.
We have new powers to deal with this. It means that assets from a specified list can be taken into account when calculating child maintenance, including houses. If the total value of those assets is above £31,250, we’ll calculate what’s called a notional income of 8% of the value of those assets. This aims to be effective in targeting a parent with a wealthy lifestyle where their income is complex or can’t be pinned down.
7. Why aren’t the additional costs of raising a disabled child taken into account for the calculation?
CMS goes off the paying parent’s income which takes a percentage from their earnings based on the number of children they have, rather than the specific circumstances of a child.
Through the welfare system, there’s financial support available for parents raising children with disabilities such as the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which can provide up to £148.85 a week to help with the cost of looking after a child under 16 depending on the level of help needed. You can find more information, such as the eligibility requirements and how to claim, online.
When your child turns 16, DLA becomes Personal Independence Payments (PIP). We’ll write to let them know, as usually they’ll need to apply for it. A claim can be started by calling the DWP on 0800 917 2222, with the information provided in the PIP claimant guide. This system also provides up to £148.85 a week.
8. Why do payment amounts change, and often without notice?
We’ll set the payment amount for the paying parent and you’ll be informed if we changed that.
If you don’t get the amount we’ve told you, or you don’t get anything at all, let us know and we’ll chase them. We can use our enforcement measures, or move them on to the collect-and-pay system.
9. Inconsistent advice is a big problem. Why can’t I have a dedicated case worker?
You will get a dedicated worker who will oversee your case if it’s particularly complicated. But, in most cases, our trained staff have the right level of understanding and expertise to help you. We regularly train our staff to make sure they are equipped to handle the variety of cases that come their way.
We’re continually looking at our service to make sure we’re delivering the best outcomes we can. For example, we’ve changed the way we route calls, improving how many land with the right team straight away. Colleagues know they can take action on customer queries, and that they should give clear, consistent expectations on how long things may take so you don’t feel in the dark.
And, no matter how you choose to contact our department, we will work hard to provide you with an effective resolution and, importantly, get money to your family as early as possible.
10. Why won’t I get maintenance for my child past the age of 18?
Sometimes you can, because of how we legally define a child. Your child is eligible for CMS if they’re under the age of 20 and in full-time education, or you’ve registered for child benefits for them. To be eligible for child benefits until they’re 20 years old, again, they need to be in approved full-time education or training, and live in the UK. If this isn’t the case, when your child turns 19, the paying parent is no longer liable.
Baroness Stedman-Scott will be returning to the post on Thursday 10 October
By Baroness Stedman-Scott
Is this for real MN? It's like some tacky PR exercise from the DWP.
The system does not work. There are still countless reports of non paying NRPs, and NRPs hiding behind self employment to minimise what they pay.
I actually can't believe what I've just read, it couldn't be more detached from reality!
Hi OP, I understand what you're saying here but the anecdotal evidence (both on this site and elsewhere) says there's a lot of money missing - this doesn't seem to add up to what you are saying. Can you explain the disparity?
Maybe this is unpopular but I don't think it is right that me or my husband could leave the other with the kids, pay X amount of CM and that amount reduce because one of us opts to have more children as part of a second family.
I know that leaves the new partner/parent to potentially pay more for their child to pick up the load for the other parent, but hopefully that will be revealed at a time where they are still deciding if they are right for each other.
Personally, if that was my husband with other older children, I'd say his hobbies have to go so he has the money for all his children rather than me make it up for him. I don't think it would sit well with me if I knew his ex was now getting less from him because we opted to make another child.
My ex hasn’t paid a penny for his children
Cms do nothing as he tells them he has them 50:50
He does not, the system doesn’t work so meanwhile 2 children do without be used their own father would rather pay for a big fancy wedding and luxury honeymoon whilst his 14 year old doesn’t have a jacket for school, I paid for all of his uniform which he was supposed to give half of and didn’t so how I can’t afford a jacket but am trying to scrape it together. But glad mrs Dwp thinks the system is working eh
From my experience the CSA are useless. Taking his word that he was gonna pay me and he didn't for years. Send the bailiffs but he's not there so no money was ever recovered. He could lie and they would go off his wages from years ago. They never took any money off him.
Our experience of the CMS is just as poor as what many describe of the CSA. It appears that the system lets down children whose NRP does not support them practically or financially. Arrears are written off and not much is don't in many cases. Frustratingly in the case of my husband who is a supportive NRP both practically and financially (he has his child just shy of 50/50 - his ex would only go as close to boundary as possible whilst still ensuring the ability to claim child support. He has paid for his own uniform, extra curricular activities in and out of school. Every year the RP has contested the amount. Now has a business owner the RP has resorted to blatant lies resulting in a financial investigation where the burden of proof has been on him to disprove the claims which he is able to do, but it is unacceptable none the less. The CMS has done nothing to check the speculative nature of the claims of the RP which was plain to see from a right of access request to our information. I totally agree that NRP should be held accountable for their children, but the system is tarnished. It lets down those whose ex blatantly shirk responsibilities, and in our case unduly drag decent people through the mud who do support their child and our fully involved in parenting them. Something drastically needs to change to make good use of the service rather than it be used, in our case, for someone with an agenda and an axe to grind.
Is this a joke?
I know 4 mums for whom self employed dads have never paid a single penny. And now the debt has been written off.
You say a lot about extensive methods like taking away driving licences and passports. How often do you actually do that? My ex husband has given you the run around for years, you say you can't find him, it took me 2 minutes on social media. I gave you numbers, addresses and work places and still nothing.( I even got a friend to call his workplace say they were from HMRC and they immediately confirmed he worked there, so why couldn't you do that?) You need to start talking to the parents who are suffering under the system who seem to know better than you how the absent parents are abusing the system. A few months ago with a huge sum of arrears owing to me you write me a letter saying you are writing off the arrears. Why? That money is owed to me it's should not be your decision to write it off. If the money was owed to the government in taxes you would make a lot more effort but instead you make the decision not to bother anymore. I brought my kids up alone , I made huge sacrifices and worked myself into the ground to look after my kids . You had all the evidence you needed but all I got was a different person on the phone every time and a different story every time. I lost count of the number of times I was told money was coming only for it not to. Try talking to the people who are really affected by this and let them make the decisions. You might then find a system that actually works.
I've been on both sides of this.
Just sorted payments out between ourselves.
Csa first increased payments then reduced them.
We just kept paying the same.
When we had our son the same amount of money went to his 2 older brothers.
In fact in the last few years we increased it.
I'd like the government to cover basic payments when NRP is in jail.
No benefits because you're in jail = no child maintenance even at the measly basic £6 a week rate.
So he's a criminal and is fed three times a day and housed in a warm prison.
But his children? They are currently not worthy of any help whatsoever.
It is an absolute disgrace.
What a crock. I could have put money on the kind of post this would have been. And at the end of it all there are still thousands of families living with significantly less money than they should have because of the ineptitude of this service. But thanks, I feel suitably patronised.
@MumsnetGuestPosts don't you think there should be some sort of intro in this??
My experience is that every person I spoke to said a different thing to the last one.
I would be told one thing and get a letter advising something completely different.
I could never speak to my case worker.
It feels like you make it as difficult as possible so either we give up or you can move them to collect and pay!
We can we can we can we can
Yes, but you don't, didn't and won't. I have accepted that now.
My personal experience with CSA and CMS is CSA we're better at delivering child's maintenance over all for my DD, when I first put claim in to CSA he didn't pay a penny for a good 6 months so they put a attachment to his earners and had to pay arrears, which he did for a year every month I received exactly what he was suppose to pay plus arrears cut down into instalments, he then started his own business and he had to pay £5 a week and I received £ 5 a week off him for years for DD, skip to CMS and he had to pay £30 odd pound a week maintenance but guess what I only ever receive £10 off him for her, rang CMS afew times and they are no help, I actually got told by one there was nothing they can do and they don't even say they will send a letter out to him or anything.
So yes over all from my experience CMS leaves my DD down CSA did not I received every penny eventually that he was told to give for DD with CSA but CMS they arnt interested that he dosent pay the full amount he suppose too and that's been two years.
Every person I speak to at the CMS tells me something different. Sort your training out.
If a parent with care has to pursue maintenance via the CMS, there's a good chance the NRP is a deadbeat parent, who dodges paying maintenance and prioritises their own needs and lifestyle over their children's. Knowing that this is the case, the CMS still insist on giving each parent equal weighting, ie, I tell them he's not paid, and he tells them that he's going to, so they back off, then he doesn't. I have been trying to move to collect & pay for 6 months, but they won't do it, as they want to give him another chance.
Why can't they take maintenance straight from earnings, like PAYE? Like a pp said, if this was tax owed, they'd be all over it.
Currently getting 5.00 ish a week . Does anyone know if it is found during the annual review that parent earned more money than thought/predicted that year do you ever get this back?
I think you would be hard pressed to find a more incompetent organisation than the CMS. Through several unhappy years dealing with them , I can say with conviction that the Minister's description of how the CMS operates is pretty close to fiction.
We can also grant court action for liability orders, which means Enforcement Agents could come and sell their property to pay unpaid maintenance and any costs. If that doesn’t work, we can also disqualify them from driving, confiscate their licence, take their passport away, or send them to prison
Please yell us exactly how many NRP you have sent to prison, taken passports or driving licenses from or made them sell their property?
This PR stunt won't go down well here, look through the board and you will see the same stories of single parents (mostly mothers) being let down by the system.
For those who have problems, contact your MP. It was only after my MP looked into it that they suddenly managed to be able to locate my ex and make a DOE order.
So I could tell my ex he legally has to pay child support until the youngest finishes education at 19/20?
Lol this post is a joke right ?
My ex deliberately gave up his job to avoid paying for our 3 kids. I then used to get £5 a week between the 3 of them.
Then he got a part time job and I got nothing.
Now, he buggered off to France with his new woman who has a good job and he doesn't work.
I've since received a letter from the csa or whatever name you go by now, saying he will no longer be chased for any money or historical debt.
Sorry if this has been asked. I haven't read the entire thread and and am not in a cs dispute. Just wondering what happens if the non custodial parent moves abroad or lives abroad?? I'm assuming if they have never lived in the Uk or move overseas there's nothing the UK agency can do.
Can a dad claim back CS if it turns out the child isn't actually his?
The system is shit. They don't know wha they're doing. I get conflicting letters emails and texts and when I ring they say 'oh yea you've had conflicting letters emails and texts I don't know why and I don't know which ones are right'. A total let down.
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