New regulations came into force in February which removed the £20 fee for all Child Maintenance Service applicants. This is the government service that helps separated parents to arrange how they pay for their child’s living costs; this is known as child maintenance.

Parliamentary bodies have previously recommended that the fee should be removed, and some parents have said it has deterred them from arranging child maintenance through the government service.

Who has to pay child maintenance?

In Great Britain, parents are legally responsible for paying for their child’s living costs, even if they do not live with them or have no contact with the child.

Child maintenance is a financial arrangement between a parent a child does not normally live with (the ‘paying parent’) and the person who lives with the child and who usually provides day-to-day care for them (the ‘person with care’). The person with care does not have to necessarily be the child’s legal parent.

Parents can agree a private child maintenance arrangement themselves (sometimes referred to as a family-based arrangement). If they cannot reach an agreement, child maintenance can be arranged through the government’s statutory Child Maintenance Service, which can act as an intermediary between parents, calculate how much they pay and collect payments.

What was the £20 application fee for?

Before 26 February 2024, under the Child Support Fees Regulations 2014, those who applied to the Child Maintenance Service for it to calculate maintenance amounts had to pay an application fee of £20, unless they were:

  • aged 18 or younger
  • a victim of domestic abuse or violence and had reported this to “an appropriate person” (such as the police).

The Impact Assessment for the 2014 Regulations (PDF) said the application fee was intended to “encourage parents to consider family-based arrangements as an alternative to the [Child Maintenance Service] and to provide value for the taxpayer”.

In 2021/22, the total income from the £20 application fee was £700,000.

There is no application fee in Northern Ireland where there is a similar, but separate, service.

Why was the fee removed?

On 26 February 2024, the Child Support (Management of Payments and Arrears and Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 came into force, which among other things removed the application fee.

In announcing the change, the Government said it would remove the £20 fee so “children in the poorest families are not unfairly disadvantaged if their parent cannot afford the £20”.

The explanatory memorandum published with the 2024 regulations acknowledged that applications to the Child Maintenance Service were lower than expected. The Government cited a March 2022 report from the National Audit Office (NAO) on child maintenance, which found take-up of child maintenance arrangements through the government service had fallen by much more than expected since the service was introduced in 2012, from an estimated 46% of separated families in 2011/12 to 18% by 2019/20. This is compared with an expected take-up of 33%.

The NAO also found that the estimated proportion of families without any form of child maintenance arrangement in place had increased.

Some stakeholders told the NAO that fees and charges “may deter people” who would benefit from the service. Commenting on the £20 fee removal, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Minister, Viscount Younger, said it will make the Child Maintenance Service “accessible to everyone”.

The Government did not consult on removing the fee. However, it did explain in the memorandum that removing the fee “supports recommendations” by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee and Work and Pensions Select Committee to increase the number of effective child maintenance arrangements.

Are there other fees for using the Child Maintenance Service?

For those using direct pay – where the Child Maintenance Service calculates the rate of maintenance and the parents make payments directly to each other – there are no additional fees.

For those using collect and pay – where the service calculates, collects and passes on payments between parents – there are additional fees, however:

  • The paying parent must pay an extra 20% of the child maintenance due.
  • The person with care receives 96% of the child maintenance paid by the other parent (amounting to a fee of 4%).

These are recurring fees paid each time child maintenance is paid.

A separate Library briefing provides more information on the fees charged by the Child Maintenance Service .

Have the new regulations changed anything else?

In addition to removing the £20 application fee, the new regulations allow the Child Maintenance Service to write off child maintenance arrears in some cases when they are less than £7 and there is little chance of collecting them.

The memorandum explains this is to eliminate the cost of managing such cases, where “the value of the debt… is substantially less than the cost of collecting it”, saving the DWP around £100,000 a year.

Arrears of less than £7 can be written off when:

  • the maintenance calculation no longer has effect under specific provisions of the Child Support Act 1991 (for example, when either parent has passed away, or when the child in the case is no longer considered to be a child), and
  • the paying parent has not made any payments in the three months before the decision to write off the arrears.

Further reading

About the author: Niamh Foley is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in the Child Maintenance Service.

Photo by Nick Pampoukidis on Unsplash

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