It is a legal right to receive maintenance, on behalf of your child, from the non-resident parent if they have the means to pay. Historically, if parents have not been able to reach an agreement between themselves, they would utilise the services of the Child Support Agency (CSA) who would act as an intermediary by assessing the amount of maintenance due and put in place a voluntary agreement for payment; or, if the non-resident parent was not cooperating, they would deduct the monies due directly through their employment.
The CSA is however being phased out to be replaced with the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), an exercise that is likely to take up to three years; so what is the difference?
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) – What’s changed?
From the 30th June 2014, if you already have an ongoing case with the CSA you will begin a process of being transferred to the CMS where charges apply for using the service (it is thought that this will be a gradual process and may take up to two years). If you are making a new application directly to the CMS, you will be required to pay a one off application fee of £20 but charges on the maintenance being paid and received will apply immediately.
The ongoing charges apply when you instruct the CMS to carry out a ‘collect and pay’ service on your behalf i.e. if the non-resident parent is not paying voluntarily and it becomes necessary to obtain the monies through their employment. The paying parent will be required to pay an additional 20 per cent on top of the required amount of maintenance as an administrative charge and the recipient parent will have the amount due to them reduced by four per cent.
Therefore, if the non-resident parent is due to pay £100 and the collect and pay service is used, they will actually pay £120 and the resident parent will receive £96. Both parents are therefore being penalised for the failure to reach an agreement, whichever parent may be in the wrong.
Ministers insist the reforms are being introduced to encourage parents to work together, freeing up the service so it can focus on the most challenging cases. However, a number of charitable organisations have criticised the new regime as it penalises the parent who has a right to receive the maintenance on behalf of their child.