Child Maintenance – Single mothers launch legal action against DWP

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This week there was an article in The Independent newspaper stating that four single mothers have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Work and Pensions over its “persistent failure” to collect child maintenance payments from absent parents. The women have brought a judicial review against the government over alleged failings which they say pushed them into financial hardship and left them in debt. It is not clear if this is at the hands of the current system or the well-known and largely ineffective system under the command of the Child Support Agency.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) was brought in to replace the Child Support Agency (CSA) in a bid to improve collection of child maintenance. A major change under the new regime was that there is a charge for using the CMS to collect the payments, which is 20% on top of the paying party’s maintenance and a 4% reduction on the receiving party.

Jolyon Maugham, director of Good Law Project, which is supporting the legal action, said that being a single parent was “just about the toughest job” in the UK. He added: “What single parents really need is help from the government. But what they’ve had is laws which remove their right to sue absent parents for financial support and an agency that fails to collect that money.”

When parents separate, there is an obligation on the non-resident parent to pay child maintenance. Parents are encouraged to agree this amount between them. If an agreement cannot be reached, you can approach the CMS who will undertake an assessment based on several factors, such as the paying parent’s income and the number of children they are responsible for.

The Courts have very little jurisdiction in this area. The Court will only get involved if you satisfy one of the following exemptions:

  • If the paying party earns more than £156,000 a year;
  • The paying parent lives outside of the UK; or
  • You have further expenses for education or disability needs.

The current laws remove a resident parent’s right to sue absent parents for financial support. It is suggested that over 700,000 children covered by such arrangements and approximately £354m is outstanding in unpaid maintenance payments. Whilst the results of the recent legal action are yet to be seen, it is hopeful that this will generate a change in the enforcement of child maintenance is handled.

Watch our short video explaining Financial claims for children following separation

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