May 2014 CSA Reform – The Facts

21 May, 2014

I asked my colleague Ben Carter to come up with the last word on today’s CSA reforms. Here’s what he said, including some bits (particularly para 4) that the press didn’t tell you

1. A high number of parents, who have a case with the Child Support Agency, will receive letters this week advising them of the changes to the way in which the child support system will work.

2. As part of the Government’s current reform of the system all existing cases, which have been dealt with by the Agency, will automatically be closed at some point over the next couple of years. This means that parents with existing cases will then have to make a choice as to whether they wish to make a fresh application for child support or whether they wish to enter into a private agreement for payment of child support outside, and independent of, the child support system.

3. If one of them decides that they wish the Agency, or its intended replacement body, the Child Maintenance Service, to continue to deal with their case then they will discover that they will now have to pay fees for the privilege of doing so.

4. For the paying parent, usually the father, this will be 20% of the child support liability with the receiving parent, usually the mother, paying 4% of the liability and, therefore, only receiving 96% of the liability once the fee has been deducted. These charges are clearly quite significant and many parents will feel it is grossly unfair to be forced to pay a charge for a service that has previously been free to use and, furthermore, has had a somewhat chequered past. However, if the paying parent opts to make payments direct to the receiving parent, rather than through the CSA, those charges may be avoided.

5. Before a parent can apply to the new scheme they will have to pass through a “gateway” which involves a telephone conversation with the Child Maintenance Option Service. This organisation will explore with the parent whether a private agreement, instead of an application to the Child Support Agency, would be suitable in their case.

6. Those parents who do decide to enter into a private agreement may quickly discover that these agreements, whilst no doubt successful for some, may well not be appropriate for them bearing in mind that they are unmonitored and currently unenforceable.

7. It is, furthermore, up to the parents to decide how much will be paid pursuant to such an agreement, which may result in payments being made which bear no relation to the cost of maintaining a child.

8. Whilst there may be some merit to the Government’s claim that it is better for parents to be able to reach agreement over these issues, it is quite clear that such agreements will be unsuitable in a significant number of cases. The concern is that these cases will now be deterred from applying for child support and will end up with private agreements, which are not complied with, or make provision for the payment of inadequate sums.