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 government’s statutory 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.
Recent proposed changes
In May 2022, the Library published a pack for the debate on ‘Reforming the Child Maintenance Service’. The pack covers the March 2022 National Audit Office (NAO) report into child maintenance and the Government consultation on legislative changes to the child maintenance system (the 2012 system), published in June 2021.
Private Members Bills
In the 2022-23 Private Members Bill ballot, there were two Private Members Bills selected which would change legislation around the CMS:
The Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill 2022-23
The Bill is covered in section 3 of the Library briefing on Child maintenance: Support for victims of domestic abuse.
It will amend existing legislation to allow a child maintenance case to be placed onto the collect and pay service where there is a case involving domestic abuse and one of the separated parents requests it. It has cross-party support from the Government and Labour.
The Child Support (Enforcement) Bill 2022-23
The Bill would make a provision for the Secretary of State to make a liability order and remove the need for the CMS to apply to the court. In the second reading debate, the Government confirmed it supported the Bill.
Information on the enforcement powers of the CMS and the Bill is in section 4 of the Library briefing on Child maintenance: Fees, enforcement and arrears.
Enforcement action consultation
From July to August 2022, the Government ran a consultation on commencing existing curfew powers. The powers, which already exist under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008, would result in a non-compliant paying parent “to remain at a specified place at specified times” for up to six months. The curfew powers would apply to paying parents living in England, Wales and Scotland. The Government has not yet responded to the consultation.
More information is available in section 4.3 of the Library briefing on fees, enforcement and arrears.
Child Support (Enforcement) Bill 9 December 2022 | House of Commons | vol 724 col 664
Children: Maintenance 21 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 109687
Child Maintenance Service 19 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 107176
Child Maintenance Service: Appeals 19 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 107175
Children: Maintenance 12 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 99986
Children: Maintenance 12 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 101751
Child maintenance blunders take up half of rulings against DWP after flood of complaints
18 December 2022
More than a third of parents fail to contribute towards child maintenance payments
7 August 2022
Fathers who don’t pay child support to be tagged and banned from the pub
9 July 2022
Child maintenance: Support for victims of domestic abuse 29 Dec 2022 | Commons Briefing papers | CBP-9661
Child Maintenance: Fees, enforcement and arrears | Commons Briefing papers | CBP-7774
Child maintenance: Calculations, variations and income (UK) | Commons Briefing papers | CBP-7770
Child maintenance: Overseas cases and income (UK) | Commons Briefing papers | CBP-7775
Reforming the Child Maintenance Service | Commons debate pack | CDP-2022/0091