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In Great Britain, a parent is legally responsible for maintaining their child, even if they do not live with the other parent or have no contact with the child.

Parents can agree a private child maintenance arrangement themselves. If they cannot reach an agreement, child maintenance can be arranged through the government’s statuatory Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

This briefing looks at how the CMS works for parents who have experienced domestic abuse and what the Child Support (Domestic Abuse) Bill would change.

It covers the situation in Great Britain, as primary child maintenance legislation is a reserved matter for Wales and Scotland, but it is devolved for Northern Ireland.

The Child Maintenance Service and cases involving domestic abuse

The CMS can:

  • Calculate the amount of child maintenance that should be paid;
  • Locate the other parent if their location is unknown;
  • Arrange the child maintenance payments; and
  • Take enforcement action if the non-resident parent doesnt pay.

When making a child maintenance application, either parent can contact the ‘get help arranging child maintenance’ service, for impartial advice on arranging child maintenance. The parent should inform the service if they and/or the child are victims of domestic abuse, so they are provided with the right information.

CMS staff should use the CMS Domestic Abuse Plan to guide them through actions to support victims (eg, signposting to relevant services).

Are domestic abuse victims exempt from fees?

The CMS’s £20 application fee for a maintenance calculation is not charged if a person is a victim of domestic abuse or violence and has reported this to “an appropriate person”. A person can also be exempt if they are aged 18 and below.

Over half (53%) of new applications to the CMS were exempt from the application fee in the quarter ending September 2022. Almost all exemptions (98%) were due to domestic abuse.

Reports into Child Maintenance Service’s support

In autumn 2021, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned an independent review of ways in which the Child Maintenance Service supports survivors of domestic abuse. The Review completed in April 2022, and the Government published its response in January 2023. It accepted eight of the ten recommendations made.

In June 2022, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report in the Child Maintenance Service. The Committee concluded that, while “the CMS may be the safest and only way” for victims and survivors of domestic abuse to secure maintenance from their ex-partner, the system “is not designed to protect” them.

PAC also noted evidence from stakeholders suggested the CMS was lacking in “awareness, understanding and responsiveness”.

In its evidence to the report, the DWP acknowledged it does not have information to suggest if domestic abuse or coercive control are factors in a person’s decision to not use or stop using the CMS.

Child Support (Domestic Abuse) Bill

The Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill 2022-23 is a Private Members Bill currently going through Parliament.

The Bill is looking to amend legislation to allow a child maintenance case to be placed onto the collect and pay service if the case involves domestic abuse and one of the parents requests it. The collect and pay service is where where the CMS collects and passes on payments.

The Bill has cross-party support from the Government and Labour, and it will return to the House for report stage on 3 March 2023.

The Bill will apply to England, Wales and Scotland only.

Northern Ireland

For information on how the Child Maintenance Service in Northern Ireland (NI) can support victims of domestic abuse, see the NI Direct webpage, CMS support in domestic abuse or violence.

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