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Kara Swift
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CHILD SUPPORT: R (Howes) v Child Support Commissioners [2007] EWHC 559 (Admin)

Date:28 MAR 2007

(Administrative Court; Black J; 28 March 2007)

The child support was assessed at £25.90 per week, on the basis that the father's income was £228.84 per week. The appeal tribunal allowed the mother's appeal, assessing the father's income at nearly £1,900 per week, taking into account profit made from property development, and ordered a recalculation of the child support figure. The child support was recalculated at £158 per week. Within the one month time limit the father, who was represented by his accountants, not by a lawyer, wrote to the tribunal indicating that he wished to appeal; the letter was not a valid application for leave to appeal because it did not contain the grounds of appeal. In response to a communication from the tribunal, the father completed an 'appeal form', which he sent to the Child Support Agency Appeals Unit one day outside the time limit. The Appeals Unit, and subsequently the clerk to the tribunal, treated the form as a late appeal against the tribunal decision. Eventually, after obtaining legal representation, the father sought permission to appeal to the Commissioner, who treated the original appeal form as an attempt to appeal the revised child support assessment, not the tribunal decision. The Commissioner ultimately rejected the father's appeal on the basis of delay.

If those whose day-to-day job was working with the child support rules and regulations were confused by the child support appeal system, a would-be appellant might very easily be so. The Commissioner had been entitled to concentrate on the question of delay to the exclusion of other relevant factors; however, his analysis of the delay had omitted material considerations. The Commissioner had probably been correct in law to treat the appeal form as an appeal against the reassessment, rather than against the tribunal decision, but he should have recognised that it was very possible that the claimant father had believed that the form was progressing his appeal against the tribunal. Bearing in mind that the father at that time had no lawyer acting for him, the Commissioner ought to have considered the father's earlier attempts to appeal so that he could take a proper view of the nature and degree of the delay he was being asked to override and how it weighed in the scales with the other factors, such as the weighty fact that this was an appeal that the Commissioner himself thought might have merit. The failure to adhere to time limits would sometimes lead to a claimant being unable to pursue a meritorious appeal, but such a decision could only be taken with the full circumstances in mind.