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Entries in child maintenance (6)


Training session on the new child maintenance system

As the new system for child maintenance (CS3) comes into use for many families, FNF Scotland is holding a training session in Edinburgh on Tuesday 17th January from 7-9pm.

John Fotheringham, a Scottish family lawyer who is very experienced in child support issues, will cover the structure of the CS3 system and how it differs from the previous scheme that was run by the Child Support Agency.  He will also talk about how variations and shared care are dealt with in the new scheme and how aliment interfaces with child support, all mainly from the viewpoint of the person who pays maintenance.

Described in one legal guide as a "guru for child support cases", John once claimed that his best experience as a lawyer was "Winning three child support cases in a single day — two of them at the Tribunal and the third one by making the CSA run away."

Admission is free, but please book a place using this link.


The charges are coming

Although child maintenance applications have been made under the new child support scheme (CS3) since last year, a major change to the system has been waiting in the wings for some time.

Charges for the child maintenance service carried out by the government have been threatened ever since the CSA was launched in 1993, but the continuing problems with the CSA meant that charging could never be justified.

Two major child support reforms later, one of the main features of the CS3 scheme is the introduction of disincentive measures intended to reduce the amount of Government intervention and persuade more people to sort out child support for themselves.

The Government will finally introduce a £20 charge for applications for maintenance assessment from this week, with "collection" fees starting from 11th August and further charges made if "enforcement action" has to be taken to collect money. 

These collection fees comprise a 20% surcharge for the parent paying maintenance on top of the assessed amount and a further 4% taken from the maintenance assessment before it is paid over to the parent receiving maintenance. The fees will only apply if the Collect and Pay Service is being used.

his means that for every £100 assessed, the non-resident paying parent will actually have to hand over £120. From this sum, the Government takes an administration fee of £24, leaving only £96 for the receiving parent.

The new charges won't be applied to people on the older child support systems, but over the next couple of years all existing CSA cases will be closed and the parents will have to re-apply under the CS3 system for maintenance assessments, collection and enforcement.

A parent paying maintenance who has a good payment record and doesn't have arrears cannot be forced to use the Collect and Pay Service.  Charges can be avoided on the new scheme by making direct payments or by making a family-based arrangement with your ex-partner. 

The main problem comes if you are in dispute about an assessment, or cannot afford to make the payments at the assessed level.  Adding a 20% charge on top of current payments, plus hefty enforcement charges, will inevitably cause major problems to some people, and the disparity between the 20% rate for parents who pay maintenance and 4% for those who receive it was strongly opposed by FNF as inequitable. 

Please let us know if you face problems with the new system.


Universal credit not treated as income in child maintenance calculation

Scottish Labour MP Cathy Jamieson's asked a question in the Commons about what the child maintenance liabilities will be of a single, unemployed, non-resident parent who becomes a non-resident parent while in receipt of universal credit.

The Minister for Pensions, Steve Webb, confirmed that the universal credit award is not treated as income for child maintenance purposes.

A non-resident parent on universal credit and not earning; for example, because they are unemployed, may be liable to pay the flat rate of maintenance.


Child maintenance in a widget

Help and support for separated familiesSorting Out Separation is a new web application from the UK Government, which is being distributed as what is known as a "widget" through a range of family web sites.

The aim is to provide support to the 300,000 families who separate in Britain each year, covering everything from how to avoid a separation to coping with the emotional impact of breaking up, accessing legal or housing support and arranging child maintenance.

While Families Need Fathers Scotland welcomes this new service, a first look at the site indicates that it hasn't fully recognised the different structures and organisations in Scotland and when a Scottish option is included it is listed as a variant.

UK web sites such as the CAB Adviceguide recognise the differences throughout and flag them up right from the opening page.

But we can report that it was fairly easy to embed in our web site - try it out for yourself on our support page.



Maintenance charging concealed within consultation on abolition of CMEC 

The arms-length Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC) is being scrapped in a move to give Department of Work and Pensions ministers "...  more direct control, responsibility, and accountability over the delivery of child support strategic and operational policy, and the ongoing and future reform of child maintenance." 

A consultation on this change was launched last week.  It consists mainly of a search and replace exercise on existing legislation (for “Commission” substitute “Secretary of State”).  

Slipped in at section 47 are the mention of new powers to charge for assessment and collection of maintenance, including the power to make provision for the charging of fees which are not related to costs. 

The original 1991 Act which established the Child Support Agency included powers to charge fees, although it did offer the safeguard that fees would not be charged to people receiving benefits. 

Full details of the new charging scheme will not be known until subsequent orders are made, but it is revealing that the controversial topic of charging should be slipped out in an otherwise uncontentious bit of secondary legislation.

Responses to this consultation are required by 3rd January 2012.  FNF Scotland suggests that if you do manage to prepare a response before the festive season, it could include the point that charging should not start until the operation of the yet-to-be-named successor to the CSA reaches acceptable standards of performance. 

And if you also wanted to suggest that the new agency should also be responsible to the Scottish Parliament or should be obliged to locate some of its key staff in Scotland, there's no harm in making suggestions.