Comprehensive changes to the child maintenance system that will see charges introduced for both parents are set to go through parliament this week. The charity, Gingerbread, is calling on MPs and Lords to oppose the plans.
New regulations, due to be debated in the Commons on Monday, 3 February and the Lords on Tuesday, 4 February, will lead to the closure of all Child Supoprt Agency (CSA) cases over the next 3 years and fees for parents who need to use the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
Under plans to shake up the current system, the Government wants separated parents to negotiate their own settlements, without using the new Government service. It intends to close almost one million existing CSA cases, arguing that the charges to use the new service will serve as an incentive for parents to come to their own private arrangements.
According to Gingerbread these changes will mean that children lose out.
The Department for Work & Pensions plans to introduce a £20 application fee to access the CMS and get a maintenance calculation. Parents will become liable to a 4% collection charge if the new service has to step in and collect outstanding maintenance from the other parent. Those parents that fail to pay maintenance will be charged an additional collection fee of 20% on top of their children's maintenance, which the Government will keep. The Government expects to be collecting £145m per year in fees from both parents
If they get through parliament this week, the charges are expected to take effect in a few months' time.
Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:
‘The new service should have securing reliable maintenance for children at its core, but instead it will jeopardise existing arrangements and put financial pressure on struggling single parent families.'
‘Parents will only be able to use the new collection service when their child's other parent has repeatedly failed to pay child maintenance. It is wrong that single parents should have to lose part of their child's maintenance because of the other parent's unwillingness to pay.'
Gingerbread has expressed concern that the case closure process, application fee and ongoing charges will discourage some parents from securing maintenance for their children. The Government estimates that 100,000 CSA parents, currently due child maintenance, will simply give up and make no arrangements when their CSA case is closed.
Fiona Weir added:
‘One in five of the poorest single parent families could be lifted out of poverty by regularly receiving child maintenance. We want to encourage more single parents to make arrangements, but the new system will put barriers in their way.'
Gingerbread handed in a petition opposing the charges to the House of Commons on Monday, 3 February at 2:30 pm.