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What is the Child Maintenance Service?

Child maintenance is a financial arrangement between parents, which covers a child’s living costs when one of the parents does not live with the child. Currently, child maintenance in Great Britain can be organised privately through parents, or through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

The current Child Maintenance Scheme was introduced in 2012 and replaced the Child Support Agency. The reformed service was designed:

…to overcome many of the problems associated with the Child Support Agency (CSA) and be more cost-effective to administer […] [and] to increase levels of cooperation between separated parents, and encourage parents to meet their responsibilities to provide their children with the financial support they need to get a good start in life.

The CMS organises child maintenance payments through two different arrangements: Direct Pay, where the CMS calculates the rate of maintenance, but payments are made directly between parents, and “Collect and Pay”, where the CMS calculates, collects and passes on payments between parents.

Government reform

In June 2021, the Government published a consultation on proposed legislative changes to the current child maintenance system (the 2012 system). The consultation sought views on proposals such as:

  • Including unearned income (that HMRC has information on) alongside paying parents earned income in CMS calculations
  • Writing off small volumes of debt under £7 “where the maintenance calculation has ended but there remains an outstanding debt and the value of the debt is substantially less than the cost of collecting it.”
  • Communicating CMS notifications digitally if requested as a preference by the customer

The Government published its response to the consultation in March 2022.

National Audit Office report

In March 2022, the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on child maintenance.

The report said parents are now relying less on the state to help them make maintenance arrangements, which was an aim of the Government’s 2012 reforms. While the number of people making a family-based arrangement has increased as intended, there has also been an increase in those with no maintenance arrangement. As a result, the report said, there has “been no clear change” in the number of families with effective child maintenance arrangements (including arrangements not through the CMS) since the Government had reformed the system in 2012. It estimated 1 in 3 separated families in Great Britain had a child maintenance arrangement where the agreed maintenance was paid in full.

The report added the aim of increasing the number of effective maintenance arrangements overall was based on a wider cross-government set of policy agendas on separated families. However, this “broader set of cross-government actions had yet to emerge in the way envisioned.”

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