Is the Child Maintenance Service the Worst Idea EVER?

divorce

Like thousands of other single parents, I’ve recently been received a letter from the CSA, announcing that my existing child maintenance agreement, as run by the CSA, will end in a few months, and I need to make new arrangements.

Now I know it has a terrible reputation but I can’t lie – when the CSA got involved in our family maintenance arrangements, it was nothing short of a life saver.

Like many divorced couples, money is a touchy subject for me and my ex. Instead of monthly muttered near-arguments about late payments, or why isn’t it this, or that amount, or why aren’t you spending it on X or Y, with the CSA doing the sums and taking the money, there was… nothing.

We were lucky – first, because Flea’s Dad has reliably made payments, and wants to support our daughter. I know a lot of absent parents don’t do that, and it must make a hard situation unimaginably more difficult. And second, because the CSA worked for us – for many thousands of parents it was a tangled mess of failure to collect payments, and inaccurate calculations.

But that’s not to say the new system isn’t even worse.

The new Child Maintenance Service replaces the CSA. Single parents seeking maintenance for their children now have three choices.

First – and this is the option the government would prefer, it’s clear – I discuss the issue with my former partner and come to a civil arrangement about what should be paid, when, and how. And that all works out. I like to think of this idea existing in a bubble, sitting on a magical cloud, next to a unicorn and a sparkling rainbow.

Perhaps the unicorn is busy reading one of the helpful guides on the CMS website for parents, called things like, “Managing Feelings” designed to help you make your own arrangements with someone you’d frequently like to stab in the heart.  Top tips include gems like this: Compromise involves a little bit of give and take on both sides. If you can both do this, you’re more likely to make arrangements that work for your family! 

So choice number one? Possibly not for us. Option number two, meanwhile, involves paying the government £20 to calculate how much my ex should pay, based on how much he tells me he earns, and then I can discuss with him how and when it should be paid. Yeah. Budge up unicorn, I’ve got a mermaid here that needs a seat.

Behind door number three, I can ask the new child maintenance service to collect the money from my ex, and pay it to me. This relies upon my ex providing the right information (which to be fair, he probably will), agreeing to use the service AND then being prepared to pay a 20% service charge on top of the maintenance, to the new CMS agency. I’ll also have to pay a 4% charge to receive the money paid for my child’s care.

Which is nice.

Basically, the government is asking single parents to give them 24% of the funds provided by non-resident partners to support their children – and thereby, one assumes, massively reducing the burden on the state to support those children.

Sure, we’re all adults and should be able to manage our own finances. I could probably suck it up and go back to having awkward silences over the phone with my ex every time we talk about money, and he can imply that I’m richer than Richard Branson, and I can imply that he’s an idiot, and everyone will be just a little bit unhappier as a result.

But what really worries me about this new policy are families that aren’t as lucky as ours.

What happens to the women with violent or abusive former partners? Are they really being forced into a choice between establishing regular contact with someone they might have struggled to escape from, or losing 24% of maintenance that might be desperately needed?

It’s a horrible choice to have to make. Do I need the money badly enough to get back in contact with a former partner who may be violent, or abusive, or hostile? Would it be safer, and less upsetting to try and manage without maintenance entirely?

However you look at it, I can’t help thinking that it’s poor and vulnerable families that are going to be hit hardest by the change – including, of course, some non-resident parents who may find themselves equally reluctant to make the same choices.

 

 

What do you think? Do you have any experience of the CSA or CMS, and these changes?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

26 Comments

  1. 11th May 2016 / 4:27 pm

    I am in this situation with my eldest daughters real dad. I have s restraining order on him. My fees have been wavered due to special circumstances and they do that. The new service is amazing and they have so many more action to get the money. I get an update call every month (we have issues with gaining the money) and they are amazing and helpful.

    • 11th May 2016 / 6:07 pm

      I think it’s AMAZING you’re having a positive experience – did they waive both the commissions (yours and his) and the application fees, for you? That’s certainly not the information they present publicly.

    • vicky
      24th July 2016 / 1:11 pm

      You are lucky. Was happy with cms at first but as my babies father ducks out of jobs they are too slow to get money. My daughter is 9 months old and we have had £21 as he goes on the dole and when they sort that out he gets a job then he doesn’t answer their phone calls or letter gets a job then 3 months down the line we have no money even though he has told me where he is working. They know he’s working but waiting for hmrc to confirm this so they can go for deduction of earnings. He has earned over £3k in wages and he will leave the job once they apply this. They are too slow. I feel like there are no penalties for not paying and the system protects the non paying oarent

    • suzanne oakes
      2nd March 2017 / 5:18 pm

      Gosh I wish I was having the experience you’re having with them I have got a lovely debt on the account now which is 1600 and I’m still not receiving payments been waiting since child maintenance took over from a CSA I have had no payment I’m actually getting into debt now because I rely on them payments

    • SEAN Stimson
      19th March 2017 / 2:21 pm

      To be honest I am fed of up hearing crap about fathers. I agree SOME partners are abusive and need restraining orders. BUT there is no mention I your article of how women use this system to their own nefarious means. The law is an ass, and unless there are special circumstances identified by a court. Then if a father pays CMS the mother has a duty to allow the father to see his children. Not hide behind a faceless organisation. You should write about the fathers who care pay and still don’t get to see their kids. And the bad mothers that turn children against them. Your article is sitting somewhere near that cloud where the unicorn you mention is.

      • 19th March 2017 / 4:39 pm

        I’d *love* for you to identify the “crap about fathers” in this post. I say that my ex has made payments reliably and I trust him to be honest. I say we BOTH should be able to suck it up and make arrangements like adults.

        What I do think is crap? Is a system that uses financial penalties to force parents into contact with someone who may be abusive or violent. The CMS – and arrangements made through it – are entirely independent of contact and custody arrangements. I do also say (as you’ll know if you read the post) that the issue of forcing contact with someone violent or abusive could equally apply to resident and non-resident parents. There are abusive women just as there are abusive men!

        I actually don’t mention contact/custody arrangements in this post. I suspect that’s YOUR issue and YOUR dispute with YOUR partner. As it happens, my child has a close relationship with her Dad and has always had regular contact. I’ve written numerous times on this site about how important I find kids’ rights to enjoy a relationship with both parents, regardless of what parents might think about each other. I still think the CMS is fundamentally flawed.

        So I suggest you take your unicorn and go find someone else to have a row with.

  2. 11th May 2016 / 6:50 pm

    Aside from the epic use of figurative language which made me laugh out loud… This situation is utterly disgraceful. I had no idea the gvt had taken this money grabbing route of failing our children YET AGAIN!

    • 17th May 2016 / 8:02 am

      I know, isn’t it awful?

  3. 11th May 2016 / 6:50 pm

    OMG. The government are taking a 20% service charge?! That money is for the kids not the sodding government! Wow. I’m not even in this situation but for the people that do this is astounding. What a bloomin’ joke!

    • 17th May 2016 / 8:02 am

      The fact that the people being charged are effectively the kids is what gets me.

  4. Mel
    11th May 2016 / 7:00 pm

    It won’t work always for the non resident parent. My husband actually went to the csa himself as his ex caused so many problems. She refuses any contact whatsoever so how are we supposed to come to an agreement? She will more than likely cause so much trouble to make sure we pay the extra 20% just for spite….we’re dreading the new system.

    • 17th May 2016 / 8:02 am

      Oh that sounds tough 🙁

  5. 11th May 2016 / 7:36 pm

    In my personal situation after domestic violence having to contact my ex and discuss money when that was a trigger for violence would nothing short of a nightmare. I know i am not alone in that sentiment and it seems that scrapping the system and making everyone start all over again in my book is more disastrous than the original system.

    Years ago (14 years ago) if you were receiving any kind of state funded benefit you need to declare any maintenance you received so they could reduce the state funded benefits and recoup some cost back by the absent partner paying for their child/ren … it seems these days you no longer have to declare and it doesnt effect state funded benefits so some family households are receiving both … how i feel on that is a whole other days discussions (sorry for rambling)

    • Lucie
      16th May 2016 / 3:53 pm

      Jaime – my situation was like yours. My ex was violent and never paid a penny towards our Son from 3 years until he died when my son was 13 years old. He was on benefits so I didn’t bother to pursue him for maintenance, as I worked full-time I felt I could cope. And like you it really irked me that WFTC exempt declaring maintenance payments, which means, as you pointed out, that some single parents are receiving maintenance and WFTC. Nor did I qualify for a widowed parent allowance after his death, as we divorced. Seems an all round crazy situation for a single parent who is not in receipt of any support from their ex.

      • 17th May 2016 / 8:03 am

        What a crazy situation!

  6. 12th May 2016 / 10:24 am

    I am so glad I have never had to deal with this but my glasses aren’t rose tinted enough to think that may never be the case. This sounds like it will be an utter nightmare and could cause so many issues and potential harm to others.

    • 17th May 2016 / 8:03 am

      Sadly, it could happen to any of us, so I can’t quite get why more people aren’t talking about it.

  7. 14th May 2016 / 9:34 pm

    I totally agree with your points, 24% is ridiculous! They should be keeping the same old system in place.

    • 17th May 2016 / 8:04 am

      Thanks Jo, I wish they’d been able to, but the CSA IT systems were so bad they had to be ditched.

  8. 30th May 2016 / 2:42 pm

    I totally agree that the new service is a total mess and I the worst idea ever. I was getting money for my eldest for many years from the CSA with no problems and then late last year we got a letter saying the claim would close due to the new system. I rang them up and was told to contact her ‘father’ to arrange payment, I told them we don’t know where he lives and he has no contact with us as he was violent and I was basically just fobbed off on the phone saying I should know where he lives etc. In the end I just closed the claim down and now get no money off him for his daughter and that is fine as we don’t need the money but if I was not financially stable I would have struggled without that extra income. xx
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  9. sarah
    8th June 2016 / 8:27 pm

    The cms are a joke.
    I should have saved my £20 and bought nappies and milk rather than pay for the ‘service’ I receive

    My sons father walked out when he was 3 months old as he wasn’t ready to be a dad…found out 3rd baby he did it to. believed a lot of lies :/ We planned for our son so this was a shock.
    Contacted cms in the beginning of nov 2015 and its still not sorted out.

    I am in my 8th month waiting as he says he will send them proof of payments even though they have proof of non payment on my bank statements and he never sends anything to them.
    I have been moved to collect and pay and he hasn’t paid, they said he keeps calling saying he will provide bank details. They give him 21 days to send post back instead of just taking bank details over the phone

    They are not doing what is best for my son, I work part time till I can go back full time so this money would help
    They do keep saying they will do a deduction of earnings order but the have to recalculate then send him a letter then wait 21 days…..blah blah blah it just goes on

    He has looked online as there are websites that tell you how to dodge paying cms and they know this and do nothing

  10. Laura
    16th July 2016 / 11:31 am

    Hello,
    We have been waiting for funds through the CSM for six months. My ex has a good job but is verbally abusive and extremely difficult, making arranging anything between us impossible. I used to have a life saving deduction of earnings through the CSA though this appears impossible to organise through the CSM. My ex recently said he would pay his arrears if the Collect and Pay (24% model) was dropped before implementation. The CSM agreed. I asked what would happen if the mooted money failed to appear – again. The CSM said they would contact my ex and moot Collect and Pay, but if he continued to ‘promise’ payment they would be unable to take the matter further. The man I spoke to yesterday said it was possible I would never receive money at all, as the CSM are worried they could be sued for incorrect deduction of earnings implementation. It’s frankly Kafkaesque! I am now interested in being involved in some sort of campaign to bring about legislative change: Our children deserve far better than this. If anyone knows of a campaign, or is keen to get involved, let me know.

  11. Nicola
    17th September 2016 / 11:03 am

    I have currently changed from the old system Csa to the child maintenance service. Found out yesterday that my weekly amounts are to be cut by £47 a week and no money now to 5 November. Check my bank on 12 November and to get back in touch if no money has been received. That’s 13 weeks from last payment and advisors say this is the transition phase to new system. I am outraged. I too think that the Government should look again at legislation. No warning that my payments would be reduced or waiting times. I feel for all those having to deal with this situation whilst trying to be good parents.

  12. Karen
    30th September 2016 / 9:26 pm

    OK, a bit late to this party but I need to correct a couple of things. Firstly, the 20% is not taken from the receiving parent’s payment but is paid as an extra amount by the payer.

    Secondly (and as a survivor of a very abusive ex some years ago I know the importance of this) the parent with care can opt for Direct Pay (no admin charges other than one off £20) and does not have to have any dealings whatsoever with the ex, simply pass bank details which can be non geographic, via the cms.

    Now, think about this. My partner’s ex, who has refused access for 8 years, is refusing to give the cms bank details with the sole aim of FORCING him to pay £70 per month in admin to the cms (on top of his normal amount) by using collect and pay.

    The bad behaviour is not all about nasty men not wanting to pay, there are some pretty nasty women out there too.

  13. 15th October 2016 / 1:20 am

    I am fuming, my ex partner hasn’t bothered with my daughter now (13) for the last 5 years, no Christmas card or birthday card. Everything was fine with the old csa scheme. I was receiving £24 a week which I thought was a bit meesely and then informed I would receive a extra £4 per week. He got in touch and gave me a load of abuse pleading poverty and accused me of phoning them which I hadn’t. With this I decided to contact them (first time in 10 years) to ask about the increase and was informed of a change in his circumstances. They also asked if I wanted them to look into his earnings as they had not been reviewed for 10 years so I agreed. They got in touch with me fairly quickly to say I should have been receiving £43 a week instead of the £28. I have recently changed over to the new child maintenance service and am now worse off as their calculations say I should receive £25. I don’t uderstand how this is worked out considering wages have increased quite a bit in the last 10 years.

  14. Kerenza
    29th November 2016 / 1:21 am

    Like most of the others here I found the CSA life savers. My Ex never declared the whole of his earnings but we got a small amount of money each month which supplemented my own earnings and gave the boys that little bit extra for all the sports that they do. I begged the CSM to let me go on collect as he had a history of abuse with me and the boys and also of not paying. The CSA had literally had to hunt him down through the tax office and collect money from his employers. They refused, made me pay £20 for the privilege of allowing him to go onto direct pay. He hasn’t paid a penny and they are doing nothing at all to collect the money. I’m furious but I can do nothing at all about it. Child maintenance service is all geared up for dead beat Dad’s to avoid paying. It’s not about me and it’s not about him it’s about the kids who are being robbed here..

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