The child support system: A festering sore reopens

Image: Gingerbread

The latest reincarnation of the child support system was perhaps the cleverest.

It was not the cleverest because it was the best at delivering the right amount of support to the children that needed it, but rather because it did the best job of hiding inefficiencies in the child support system. You see, ever since its inception in 1991 the child support system had been a festering sore in the side of successive governments.

Those governments were constantly plagued with complaints and media stories about the failures of the system, in particular the appalling amounts that the system failed to collect from absent, or non-resident, parents.

Numerous attempts were made over the years to deal with these complaints, but they never made any significant difference, merely adding a new lick of paint to the crumbling wreck.

That was until 2012, when the latest incarnation of the system came in. The brilliant idea behind the new system was to pass responsibly for child support from the state to the parents. Instead of the state doing it for them, parents were expected to make child support/maintenance arrangements themselves. The state would only step in if it really had to.

At a stroke, the complaints reduced, and media interest in the issue of child support died away.

But the problems did not.

And now perhaps the government will not be able to hide the continued failings of the system any longer.

The single parent charity Gingerbread, alongside the Good Law Project and Mumsnet, is supporting four women who have issued a letter before claim (for oldies like me read: “letter before action”) to notify the Department for Work and Pensions of their intention to seek a judicial review, due to the failure by the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) to collect child maintenance payments from their children’s non-resident parents.

Damningly, Gingerbread say that the letter before claim “lays bare the systemic failures within the CMS:

Around a third (43%) of children covered by Collect and Pay arrangements are not receiving a penny of the maintenance they are legally entitled to
There are £354m in arrears, yet just £31m has been collected through CMS enforcement actions – less than 10% of the figure that is owed
Despite over 100,000 non-compliant parents and the enforcement powers the CMS has, just three passports were confiscated in 2019.”

They continue:

“This non-payment means many single parent families are living in poverty. Research has shown that for those who are owed maintenance and are living in poverty, being paid the child maintenance they are due would lift around 60% of them out of the poverty trap.”

Gingerbread and the claimants are calling for:

1. The systemic review of the Child Maintenance Service to enable it to start working for the children and parents it was set up to serve.
2. Effective enforcement where non-resident parents refuse to pay the money they owe to their children.

I wish them well.

You can read more about the legal challenge, which is using the hashtag #FixTheCMS, here, and here.