A new report from single parent charity Gingerbread has levelled criticism at the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for failing to ensure children received the appropriate level of support.
According to the report, ‘Children deserve more’, existing loopholes in the CMS mean that non-resident parents are paying a fraction of what they should.
The CMS is supposed to calculate and, when necessary, enforce the payments that children need. But the report argues that recent reforms have instead prioritised administrative convenience over all other concerns. This has led to a situation where desperate parents are repeatedly being let down by a system that seems designed to be as unhelpful and opaque as possible.
In particular, the decision to base the child maintenance calculation on gross taxable earnings or profits as reported to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has had widespread repercussions, says Gingerbread. One common issue is that paying parents with often considerable assets can end paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income aren’t taken into consideration. In other cases, self-employed parents are able to get away with under-reporting their income in order to reduce their payments.
“Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need,” explained Gingerbread Director of Policy Dalia Ben-Galim.
“Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires,” she added. “But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.”
Gingerbread has called on the Government to set out a clear strategy for tackling child maintenance avoidance and evasion, including far greater co-ordination between the CMS and HMRC when assessing incomes, and considerably more support for parents who wish to challenge assessments.
The report by Gingerbread has been welcomed by National Family Mediation, which is also critical of the current statutory child maintenance provision, saying that it encourages separated parents to ‘play cat and mouse’ with each other and with the CMS, to the ultimate detriment of the children.
“Parents need to be given a genuine opportunity to try and speak with each other about the vital money matters that affect their child’s future after separation,” commented National Family Mediation CEO Jane Robey.
"Agreements can be made in family mediation, and we know they are much more likely to work for everyone involved. Parents who work together after separation focus their efforts on helping their children prosper despite their separation,” she said.
“The report indicates a range of measures are used by some parents to deny their children support they’re entitled to,” she added. “Whatever tactics they employ the outcome is poorer children, denied the support that is theirs by right at a time they most need it.”
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