The new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) must be prepared and resourced to automatically take-over the more difficult or complicated child support non-payment cases from the CSA, and must be ‘toothier’ in enforcing payment.
These are the conclusions of a recent report by the Work and Pensions Committee, which also called for gaps in the CMS' capabilities in domestic violence cases, or in dealing with fraudulent means declarations, to be closed. In addition, the Committee has urged the Government to set out how it is going to tackle collection of arrears and enforcement in ongoing cases.
The report describes the non-payment of child maintenance as deplorable, and highlights that it causes financial difficulty and immense stress to the parent with care, ultimately to the detriment of the child. Too many non-resident parents get away with prioritising second families, or worse still themselves, over children from a previous relationship.
The report acknowledges that Government cannot pursue every case of arrears but is critical of the fact that the Government has so far made no clear statement of which cases it will take up. It warns that failure to demonstrate that it is taking seriously the worst legacy cases of prolonged under-payment risks undermining trust in the new system. DWP must clearly set out its criteria for prioritising arrears collection and how it intends to approach and resource tackling each category of arrears.
The report is also critical of the CMS’ ‘tentative’ approach to deploying its extensive enforcement powers, particularly as parents themselves do not have recourse to the courts to enforce child maintenance payments and rely on the CMS to do so.
By being reluctant to act, the CMS enables non-resident parents to get away with not making appropriate contributions to their children's upbringing. It also signals to other non-resident parents that they could do the same. There should be a presumption in favour of enforcement action when a payment has been missed, and action should be taken unless there is evidence of a valid reason or a credible payment plan is in place, says the report.
The report has been welcomed by single parent charity Gingerbread, which says that the findings reflect the considerable evidence that Gingerbread submitted to the committee from single parents themselves, the majority of who don’t receive any of the child maintenance that their children are entitled to.
“For decades, the children of single parents have been denied the financial support that they need, and today’s findings show that the Government still has a long way to go to tackle this social injustice,” commented Rosie Ferguson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread. “This report acts as an effective blueprint for the building of a fairer, more effective child maintenance system. We hope that it will receive the serious cross-party support it deserves, and we look forward to the establishment of a stakeholder group to keep up the pressure on behalf of single parents.”
Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.
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