COMMONS

Committee publishes report on child maintenance reforms

03 July 2011

Non-resident parents should be required to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from their salaries or bank accounts, according to a report published today by the Work and Pensions Select Committee

The report, 'The Government's proposed child maintenance reforms', calls on the Government to establish a more efficient way to administer the statutory child maintenance service, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. It highlights that in 2009-10 it cost £572 million to administer its collection service but that only £1,141 million in maintenance payments reached children; a cost of 50 pence for every £1 collected.

The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg, said:

"The current system leaves many separated parents without adequate child maintenance arrangements, and many parents with care do not receive payments on a regular basis or receive no payments at all. Our report recommends a requirement for all non-resident parents to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from salaries or bank accounts. This would increase the number of families who receive payments in full and on time."

The report examines the Government's proposed reforms of the child maintenance system, as set out in the Green Paper 'Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility'. The Government’s view is that parents should be encouraged and supported to make their own arrangements for the maintenance of their children, before deciding to use the statutory maintenance scheme. The proposals included introducing charges for parents who use the statutory child maintenance service and the establishment of a "gateway" process which would require parents to access advice and support services before they can apply to the statutory system. 

The Chair said:

"Successive Governments have tried to reform and improve the child maintenance system without success, and the Child Support Agency continues to offer poor value for taxpayers' money. The Government's proposal to introduce charges on parents is not cost-effective. We call on the Government to explore ways to make the collection service more efficient.

The proposed charges which parents will be required to pay if they use the statutory service are excessive, complex and fall too heavily on parents with care of children. We believe that, in cases where a parent with care has taken all reasonable steps to reach a voluntary agreement, the proposed charges should be paid by the non-resident parent."

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Non-resident parents should be required to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from their salaries or bank accounts. This would ensure that parents with care receive agreed child maintenance payments on time and at the correct level.
  • In 2009-10, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) cost £572 million to run but only £1,141 million in maintenance payments reached children; a cost of 50 pence for every £1 collected. The Government should find a more efficient way of administering the service, drawing on international experience and including exploring the possible use of the private sector.
  • Where a parent with care has taken all reasonable steps to reach a voluntary agreement, both the proposed application and collection charge for the service should be borne by the non-resident parent.
  • The proposals for collection charges are excessive and unnecessarily complex. Instead, there should be a single, modest administrative charge for collecting the payment.
  • The Government must ensure that its proposed network of improved advice and support services is operating effectively in all areas before charges for the statutory system are introduced.
  • The proposed gateway process is a positive development, as mediation and collaboration could resolve problems for separating parents at the earliest stage. However, it is not yet clear how the Gateway will work or who will deliver it across the country.
  • The operation of the Child Support Agency (CSA) still has operational weaknesses, including ongoing IT problems and a reported £3.8 billion in uncollected payments. The Government must ensure that the new system achieves value for money, delivers an improved service and learns from the previous problems experienced by the CSA.

Further Information

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