The Government published their response to the 14th Report on Child Maintenance that was released before Parliament was dissolved. We wrote an opinion piece on the motives for this inquiry in a recent post available to read here.
The Government response outlines their view of the recommendations made by the Committee. We do not propose to go through all of the recommendations made by the Committee and the corresponding responses but we will highlight some salient points from each section. A link to the full response can be found at the bottom of the page.
On the subject of CSA case closure the Committee recommended a unilateral option for the receiving parent to place the paying parent onto the “Collect and Pay” method which would include fees.
The Government has declined to alter the current mechanism and said the following.
In order to move to Direct Pay, non-resident parents must pay an agreed proportion (usually 50 per cent) of their maintenance liability on time and in full by a non- enforced method of payment for 6 months.
The remaining proportion of the liability will continue to be collected by an enforced method of payment to minimise disruption for parents with care.
Neither parent will have to pay the collection or enforcement charges during this period, which is known as the ‘compliance opportunity’.
On the subject of arrears (which people will be aware is a source of contention and dispute) the government said the following.
The Government agrees that it needs to review this issue and is developing a new Arrears and Compliance Strategy. We will consult later this year on our proposed approach to the collection of arrears, including the criteria for prioritising cases. We will also explore additional collection powers to prevent new debt accruing.
We at Voice of the Child are of the view that adequate powers of collection already exist. We have covered some of these already in this post. Any lack of collection is more likely caused by a lack of application, due process or even validity of the arrears in the first instance.
The Committee wanted
presumption in favour of enforcement action when a payment has been missed, and proceed unless there is either evidence of a valid reason why or a credible reparative payment plan is in place.
Of course, there are a number of reasons that payments could be low or missed. The Committee did not go into detail about what they thought may be “valid” reasons or elaborate on what they meant by “credible” in the above recommendation.
The Government outlined its current approach starting with negotiation (VoC article here) followed by enforcement action.
On enforcement the Government said
Reflecting our efforts to strengthen enforcement action, we have consulted on extending our power to deduct from bank accounts to include jointly held accounts. We intend to publish the response to this consultation shortly.
We will also consult later this year on further increasing our collection and enforcement powers as part of the new Arrears and Compliance Strategy. This will increase our ability to seize money owed to parents with care, create a greater deterrent effect to encourage early compliance and reduce the build- up of arrears in the future.
The response also talked about other teams within the CMS related to enforcement and increased HMRC collaboration.
On the subject of children from previous relationships the Committee said
Children from previous relationships and children from new relationships should be of equal importance to parents.
The Government said
a key feature of the 2012 scheme is that the allocation can include family based arrangements between a non-resident parent and former partner, as well as arrangements made using the statutory scheme.
Previous schemes allocated a greater share of the non-resident parent’s income to children living in their household. We improved upon this in 2012 by introducing a lower set of percentages for these children, in order to give more equal allocation of income to all children concerned.
On the subject of the so called “lifestyle variation” which the Committee wanted reintroduced the Government outlined their position as follows
We have no plans to reintroduce this provision, which was difficult for parents to use and uncertain in effect. The onus to prove that grounds for a variation existed lay with the applicant, typically the parent with care, and it was often difficult to obtain such details.
As a result, very few applications for ‘lifestyle’ variations resulted in changes to the existing liability. The decisions on these grounds also involved a degree of subjectivity and a large proportion of such decisions were challenged or appealed, delaying the receipt of a steady maintenance amount.
The Committee wanted an exemption from the application fee for those on means tested benefits and the Government responded
the Government has no plans to extend the application fee exemption to those on means tested benefits or to increase the level of the fee.
There were other points made about training for CMS staff and stakeholder engagement which you can read at your convenience.
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