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This briefing describes what steps the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) may take when a non-resident parent fails to pay child maintenance on time or in full. It also provides information on the application, collection and enforcement fees charged by the CMS, and briefly summarises analysis on the effectiveness of the CMS’s enforcement and collection system.

The briefing focuses on the use of enforcement measures in CMS cases (the “2012 scheme”), though they may also be applied to arrears arising from arrangements organised under the 1993 and 2003 schemes with the Child Support Agency.

Section 7 describes Northern Ireland’s similar, but separate, system.

Fees for using the Child Maintenance Service

Individuals must pay a £20 fee for applying to the CMS to calculate child maintenance. The fee is not charged if a person is aged 18 years or under, or is a victim of domestic abuse or violence and has reported this to “an appropriate person”. However, on 26 February 2024, The Child Support (Management of Payments and Arrears and Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 come into force, which will remove the application fee.

For those under “direct pay”, where the CMS calculates the rate and payments are made between parents, there are no collection fees.

For those using “collect and pay”, where the CMS collects and passes on payments, the non-resident parent must pay an extra 20% of the maintenance due and the person with care (of the child) receives 96% of the child maintenance allowance paid by the non-resident parent.

Build-up of arrears

If arrears have been accumulated under the collect and pay system, the non-resident parent is usually sent an arrears notice, and CMS caseworkers may negotiate and put in place a repayment plan. Child maintenance payments are a priority debt.

The CMS has said it aims to recover arrears within two years and expects the paying parent to pay up to 40% of their net income to clear them. The CMS may also seek, or accept a proposal of, part-payment in satisfaction of liability for the whole arrears. The written consent of the person with care (or child applicant in Scotland) must be obtained before this is accepted.

The CMS does not monitor payments made under direct pay. However, the Department for Work and Pensions states where parents do not pay their liability in full and on time, the person with care should inform the CMS who will “take swift action to move the case to collect and pay to enforce payment and recover any arrears”.

Maintenance arrears can be written off entirely in some circumstances. More information can be found in section 4.5.

Collection and enforcement powers

Without a court order, the CMS may collect arrears through:

  • A deduction from earnings order: An employer deducts payment for arrears direct from the paying parent’s salary.
  • A deduction from earnings request: As above, but for the Armed Forces.
  • A deduction order: Either a lump sum or regular deductions are made from bank accounts.
  • Collection of Assets from a deceased paying-parent’s estate.

With a Court-obtained liability order, the CMS may take the a range of enforcement action.

In England and Wales these powers include using bailiffs to take control of goods and applying to the court for an order of sale of an asset once it is registered by a court. In Scotland, powers include requesting a sheriff to make a charge of payment to require payment after 14 days, or freezing assets to prevent them being sold or transferred.

Fees may be charged when the CMS takes enforcement action against a non-paying parent.

In Great Britain, on successful application to the courts, an individual may also be disqualified for driving or from holding a passport.

Persons with care on direct pay must first transfer their case to collect and pay for the CMS to bring enforcement action against the paying parent.

Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023

The Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023 was introduced in the Private Members Bill (PMB) ballot for Session 2022-23 and received Royal Assent on the 20 July 2023. The Act, which applies in England, Wales and Scotland, makes a provision for the Secretary of State to make a liability order and remove the need for the CMS to apply to the court. The sponsoring member, Siobhan Bailey MP, said the Bill would increase the speed enforcement measures could be used to collect maintenance.

Sections 2, 3 and 4 (other than section 4(5)) of the 2023 Act come into force at the same time as section 25 of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. Section 25 of the 2008 Act is currently not commenced, however, on 2 October 2023, the Government announced a consultation on regulations relating to liability orders and the appeals process involved.

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