Single parent charity Gingerbread and domestic violence charity Women’s Aid are calling for changes to the Child Maintenance Service to help protect victims of domestic violence.
The Child Support Agency (CSA) is being closed down, which means that existing clients and new applicants will need to apply to the replacement service, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), if they need help to sort out child maintenance.
However, according to the charities, the way the CMS operates is putting domestic abuse survivors at risk.
People who have experienced domestic violence are expected to make up 50% of parents applying to the CMS, but Gingerbread and Women’s Aid have found that staff working there have no specialist training on how to work with survivors or how to recognise when financial coercion is taking place.
The CMS insists that all parents initially pay child maintenance directly to each other, requiring the parent with care of the children to supply their bank details to the other parent. The CMS will only step in to collect maintenance if payments are consistently missed.
Gingerbread and Women’s Aid are concerned that this lack of training, together with the requirement for parents to interact over payments, leaves survivors at risk of financial and emotional abuse. They warn that some parents are dropping out of the system entirely because they feel unprotected.
“Child maintenance matters,” explained Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir. “It helps single parents to provide the essentials for their children, yet less than half of single parent families get any child maintenance at all. This makes the role of the CMS crucial. But it’s clear that for the many survivors of domestic abuse who will be turning for the service for help, the CMS is not fit for purpose.”
“The service as a whole has to get a better understanding of the support that domestic abuse survivors need,” she added. “As it stands, children aren’t getting the financial support they should and survivors are being put in a vulnerable position.”
The charities are also concerned over the impact of the charges involved in using the CMS. Applicants are charged £20 to open a case. This is waived for domestic abuse survivors, but only if they declare a history of abuse – they are not directly asked. According to Gingerbread, the DWP itself has admitted that this will mean many survivors end up paying the fee.
Additional charges for both parents are applied if the CMS needs to get involved in collecting unpaid maintenance. This means that single parents will lose out financially, and many have reported not wanting to move into the collection system in case it upsets the other parent. As a result, say the charities, some are trapped in arrangements where the paying parent gets away with paying what they decide, when they decide.
To help address these issues, the charities are calling on the Government to make the following changes:
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