Changes announced to child maintenance arrangements

Last week saw the announcement that the government is to make changes to the arrangements for the way in which child maintenance payments are made.

In essence, the government wants parents to amicably their child maintenance arrangements or face additional charges. The government has said that the changes are required because the old system was proving too costly for taxpayers.

Child maintenance is the financial support that is paid towards a child’s living costs when the child’s parents have separated. When parents separate, maintenance is paid to the parent who cares for the child on a daily basis.

Many single parents used the Child Support Agency under the old system. The CSA was set up to sort out and oversee maintenance payments but government ministers made an announcement last year that the CSA was to be abolished. A government spokesman has commented on the abolition of the CSA, saying the that IT system used to run it was costing £74 million per year in operating costs alone and that it was: ‘totally inadequate and notoriously riddled with defects’. The spokesman also added that the old system: “took responsibility away from parents, encouraging conflict and hostility at huge expense to the taxpayer.”

Over 50,000 letters have been sent out by the Department for Work and Pensions to parents in England, Wales and Scotland who currently receive or pay child maintenance via the old CSA service.

The government is hoping that parents will come to their own arrangements for maintenance payments but if this is not possible or if problems arise and the new statutory service is used, both parties will face a charge.

The new rules mean that if an amicable maintenance arrangement cannot be reached, the parent who makes the payments – in most cases this is the father – will have a 20% fee added to their maintenance payments. The parent who receives the payments will have to pay an additional 4% to be able to receive the money.

The charges are due to come into effect later on this year.

Fiona Weir, the chief executive of Gingerbread, the charity for single parents, is ‘concerned’by the reforms, saying: “While many parents are able to agree private child maintenance arrangements, for many other parents, this just isn’t possible without government help.

We’re very concerned that closing CSA cases and bringing in charges may deter some parents from making new child maintenance agreements or pressure single parents into unstable arrangements, and children will lose out on vital support.”

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