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Entries in CSA (8)


Audit Office criticises child support changeover

A report from the National Audit Office makes strong criticism of various aspects of the Department of Work and Pension's (DWP) transfer to the new child maintenance system.  The closure of the 1993 and 2003 child maintenance schemes is going slower than planned, and there is a risk that arrears calculated on these earlier schemes on case closure and transfer to the 2013 scheme are inaccurate due to earlier problems in administration.

Of major concern to parents who are paying maintenance is the finding that the DWP does not tell non-resident parents that it will consider lowering repayments if they cause financial hardship. They do not tell people who have arrears about this option unless asked in order to encourage payment of arrears.

A recent survey carried out by FNF UK showed that financial hardship and the unreasonable nauture of some calculations was a major problem for many of thr fathers who contact us.  The failure to to allow for a hiugher income by the parent who receives maintenance and the discouragement of shared care are also major issues.

Jerry Karlin, Chair of FNF UK commented: “It is disgraceful that parents who don’t even earn enough money to pay tax or are on the minimum wage should be threatened with debt action and with the deduction of up to 40% of their net income from their wages. The threshold for making child maintenance has not been reviewed for almost 20 years. For many it’s not that they won’t pay, but simply that they can’t – you can’t get blood out of a stone.”


Child maintenance system still undermines shared parenting

The continued detachment of child support from the wider picture of family life is contributing to the impoverishment of children whose parents live separately and creates a perverse disincentive to meaningful co-operation between the parents.

In its submission to the inquiry by the Westminster select committee on work and pensions into child maintenance, Families Need Fathers – Because Both Parents Matter report the insights drawn from the experiences of more than 800 responses to its recent consultation among members and supporters across the UK.

Comments from the biggest ever response to an FNF consultation include:
“I feel worthless as a parent. The only interest in me is that I pay!”
“It almost destroyed me” (many)
“If not for my family the CMS would have made me homeless!”
“I have less than £100 a month for food, petrol etc.”
“As a result, the children consider me to be stingy”
“the lack of means testing or consideration of circumstances results in callous extraction of finances”
“I earn £20,000 a year my ex earns approx £60,000 I struggle to pay my bills and am denied access [by my ex] to my children. This should be taken into account”
“[the CMS/CSA calculation] has a perverse incentive to for the resident parent to keep contact as low as possible”

Jerry Karlin, Chair of Families Need Fathers (UK) says: “Our child maintenance system is poorly thought through and (perhaps unintentionally) actively undermines shared parenting. It discourages both parents from working and pushes many into severe hardship and poverty. For the sake of our children, it must be reformed.

It isn't just the moral mark of a civilised society that fatherhood should be respected and supported for the benefit of children after separation and divorce. There are shelves full of research findings that children do better when both parents are involved in their life. The tunnel vision of CMS and its various predecessors has done great damage to our children by polarising the interests of separated parents. Too many dads have been degraded and abused by the blunt instrument of the CMS in its present form.”

Ian Maxwell, National Manager of FNF Scotland added: "Fathers who willingly pay maintenance but then don't see their children are fed up with the notion that contact cannot be taken into consideration. By all mean chase up unpaid amounts vigorously but don't ignore the fathers who want to support their children and also see them."

FNF notes the content of a separate (unconnected) submission to the Select Committee by Dr Christine Davies setting out how low income Non Resident Parents struggle to pay when their child support payments represent marginal tax rates of 90% or higher - sometimes even above 100%. In other words, what they are expected to pay can exceed what they earn in certain circumstances.


Stop using the term "absent parent" 

Describing the parents who live apart from their children as "absent parents" is both inacccurate and insulting to all those parents who do their best for their children, including paying child support maintenance.

That's why FNF in England, Wales and Scotland have jointly complained to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about their press release last weekend, headed “The number of absent parents who are now paying towards the cost of their children through the Child Support Agency has hit an all-time high”.

Child support legislation has changed in recent years to avoid the use of "absent parent", so we have asked the DWP why they used this term in their press release, pointing out there are many different reasons why parents may have fallen behind in child maintenance payments, and that only a small minority of paying parents seek actively to evade their responsibilities.

The DWP decided some time ago to adopt the terms ‘paying parent’ and ‘receiving parent’ in Child Maintenance Service documents.

STP PRESS: a response has been received from DWP stating: "We will be more mindful of the connotations of this phrase and will make every reasonable effort to use more considered language in future.  A note has been circulated around the Department’s press office advising of the negative connotations that may be drawn from the use of this phrase and asking press officers to take this into consideration in all future activity."


G4S awarded contract to run Child Maintenance Options

G4S, the world's third largest private sector employer, has been awarded the contract to run the Child Maintenance Options service.  The contract was previously held by Capita at their call centre in Rotherham.

The contract, which is worth £18m over five years, is to deliver the specialist contact centre for separated parents.  This advises separated parents about ways to arrange maintenance, with an emphasis on promoting mutual (family-based) arrangements between parents rather than use of the government assessment and collection service. Advice and information is provided by phone, text and online services.

A 2012 study indicated that between July 2008 and January 2012, 89,000 effective family-based maintenance arrangements were made or changed following contact between a parent and Child Maintenance Options. 592,000 parents were contacted by the service during this period.

While the continuation of Child Maintenance Options service is welcome, the award of the contract to G4S is surprising, given the company's poor performance at the Olympics, not to mention the current controversy over its involvement in providing security services in Palestine.  At its 2013 Annual Congress in Perth the Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC) extended the scope of its Palestine boycott campaign to include G4S.


Shared parenting recognised at last in child support

Parents will no longer have to pay child maintenance when they share the care of their children equally, once changes to the UK child support system come into force.

The Government's response to consultation on draft child support regulations was published this week.

In the announcement, Maria Miller MP stated "A widely resented Child Support Agency rule is to be scrapped. This rule required some parents to pay maintenance even though they share the care of their children on a 50-50 basis. In future no maintenance will need to be paid where care is shared exactly equally."

The changes confirmed in the Response also include:

Removing students from the nil rate;

A caseworker, in the absence of an agreement by the parents or acceptable evidence of a pattern of shared care, can assume a level of one night’s shared care on the part of the non-resident parent where the fact that there will be shared care is not in doubt but parents cannot agree on the actual amount;

The rates for relevant other children will be reduced to 11% for one child, 14% for 2 children and 16% for t3 or more children;

The flat rate when a non-resident parent receives a specified benefit or has weekly income of under £100 will be set at £10 when the new scheme is open to all new applicants

The Government intends to increase the default maintenance rates (when there is insufficient information about a non-resident parent’s circumstances to make a full calculation) to £39 for one child, £51 for two children and £64 for three or more children.