Parliamentary child maintenance inquiry kicked into long grass

National Family Mediation made a submission to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee inquiry into Child Maintenance, that was scheduled to begin on 26 April 2017. Following the announcement there will be a general election on 8 June, the Committee cleared its programme on inquiries.

Jane Robey, CEO of NFM, said "On behalf of families up and down the country we are naturally disappointed that, following the decision to call a general election, a great deal of important government work in the field of family law is again being kicked into the long grass.

"It looks likely that, whatever the outcome of the election, there will be changes in Ministerial positions which tends to make it hard for new Ministers to speedily pick up the thread of work that’s been developed in the recent past, lengthening delays to change."

NFM's submission to the Committee's suspended inquiry is included below

National Family Mediation (NFM) is the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, with over 35 years’ experience helping separated families make settlements over parenting, finance and property issues.

Our work involves engaging with many of the same families profoundly and adversely affected by the years of central government mishandling of child maintenance issues.

NFM considers the scale of the proposed write-off of unpaid child maintenance payments, outlined in the National Audit Office report, to be alarming. Thousands of children up and down the country are deprived of a better quality of life as a result.

We are now in the third reinvention of child maintenance and all incarnations have involved writing off huge sums of money that should have been transferred to children, helping stave off poverty and taxpayer waste.

As family mediators we consider that family based arrangements are by far the best answer when a relationship ends. But government intervention, by the way of child maintenance arrangements, is far less necessary than many people including Ministers appear to believe.

Agreements can be made in family mediation, and we know they are much more likely to work for everyone involved, because parents themselves have had control of the vital finance decisions that shape so many aspects of their future lives. Parents who work together after separation focus their efforts on helping their children prosper despite their separation.

We have been talking with various incarnations of child maintenance service provision since 2005. All have agreed mediation would be a good thing but none have been able to do anything tangible about moving forward the agenda. We are of course hugely frustrated by the apparent lack of central understanding about how mediation can help families and taxpayers.

And are we really going to see another generation of children deprived of their entitlements because government departments can’t get it right?

Engaging better with the family mediation process could and should have an immediate impact on the numbers of children receiving child maintenance, resulting in better longer term prospects as a result. The benefits of this to government department finances and performance would be transformative.

We are aware that the Public Accounts Committee’s primary remit is to monitor the use of taxpayers’ money and in conclusion would add that we consider greater government engagement with and promotion of mediation processes would help save hundreds of thousands of pounds of precious taxpayers' as well as helping separated families up and down the land.

Jane Robey
National Family Mediation
April 2017