This article was originally published on Sunday 24th September 2017. An update was made on Tuesday September 26th 2017.
Whether you are a receiving parent or a paying parent of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) you may at one point receive a letter telling you that you are owed/owe Arrears.
Elsewhere on the site we’ve written about how to establish whether the arrears that you’ve been told you are owed (or are due to be paid) are in fact calculated correctly. You will find links to the both of these at the end of this article.
Arrears figures continue to accumulate under the CMS (which is a whole other story). For those who are legitimately owed substantial sums it is probably fair to say that they would like to understand exactly what the CMS is doing to collect outstanding amounts from their children’s other parent.
Publicly, the DWP and Child Maintenance Service would like you to believe that they are working hard on your case to ensure that the amounts are correctly calculated and, if so, that they are trying to collect them in an effective manner. They do this by giving awards to each other like this one:
For a number of reasons, Arrears are one of the most contentious and widely reported subjects when it comes to the CMS. Collecting them should be a priority.
Who is responsible for Arrears at the CMS?
Responsibility for Arrears at the CMS rests with a gentleman called Marc Gill. Marc reports to Tom McCormack the Director of the Child Maintenance Group at the DWP and is the first level of “visible management” we have identified. We’ve already made clear in a recent post what we think of Mr McCormack’s stewardship of the listing ship that is the CMS.
We now want to draw your attention of some of the elements around Arrears collection at the CMS and we’ll be the first to reveal some of the new strategies that the CMS will be using to collect the Arrears. Read on to see what it’s actually like behind the “awards” and self congratulation.
What has the DWP said about Arrears?
A recent research post on Human Resources performance outlined some of the criteria that case workers are measured on when it comes to Arrears figures. Caseworkers have a performance criteria which reads as follows:
Arrears Management: Effectively negotiate, and manage and coach your teams to negotiate, the best possible agreements by a preferred collection method in adherence to the Child
Maintenance Group’s Debt Steer.
What about Government Ministers? How seriously are they taking this problem?
Caroline Nokes MP (who was the Undersecretary of State for Welfare Delivery during the 2015 Parliament), and the person who had Ministerial responsibility for the CMS said the following in December 2016 when giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee:
I do not want anyone to get the impression that £3.8 billion of arrears have been allowed to grow lightly. They have not. CSA, just as CMS does now, has always had an active policy of pursuing those arrears
As I said, the old compliance and arrears strategy concludes in January next year. It expires, so we have to come up with a new one…..I was already looking at what new powers we might seek as part of that arrears strategy.
Arrears has 800 full-time equivalents and enforcement has 250.
Caroline Nokes MP, December 2016
So, Marc Gill runs a department which, in December 2016 employed 1,050 people.
During the same evidence session, Marc Gill’s boss, Tom McCormack said
At the moment, I am building up the number of colleagues in both the arrears sections and in the enforcement to reduce their case holdings by March next year to about 40 cases per person in enforcement.
Tom McCormack, CMS Director, December 2016
More recently, in a response to a Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry the Government stated 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.
Well, it sounds like the Minister and the Director of the CMS are taking their responsibilities seriously. Based on what Ms. Nokes said, the Arrears strategy was revised in January of this year so hopefully the children can look forward to the CMS rolling out their new Arrears strategy. But what does it look like? What new strategy has Marc Gill come up with to collect arrears? Has the policy followed the promises because, after all, words cost nothing.
Has the action followed the words? The proof is in the pudding (or cake)…
Given what the Minister and the Director of the CMS said in December last year we at The Voice of the Child were interested to do some investigation into what working in the Arrears and Enforcement team is really like. The New Strategy, (presumably driven by Caroline Nokes who was in post until Parliament dissolved in May for the June 2017 Election) should be well bedded in and achieving results.
Well, we know from the Statistics published by the government that arrears figures continue to grow.
We also know that the CMS has been applying for liability orders (which would suggest that either they are not negotiating as per their guidelines or, they are not very good at negotiation). Their aim should be to get an arrangement in place that will be adhered to and is affordable. If the imposed regime is not affordable then it is unlikely to be adhered to.
There follows some pictures demonstrating just how seriously Marc Gill and his arrears enforcement team take their task. We are sure that you will agree with us that this is not what we would have thought was an effective arrears collection strategy and apologise in advance if some readers find this upsetting.
From what we can ascertain, the CMS has shifted the focus of the Arrears collection team from one of active identification, validation and negotiation of Arrears to one of wearing “Positive Pants“, holding “Birthday Parties“, Eating Cake, and making office decorations that would not look out of place in a primary school.
The two photos above show what could reasonably be interpreted as a “team meeting” or “town hall” to discuss the serious job they have to do that day. Note the time on the wall in the second picture which shows it’s around 11.20AM. However…….
It’s actually the teams’ Birthday!
We’re going to hazard a guess that the man in the black t-shirt is Les Moorcroft and that he’s a “good egg” (also, that’s what his t-shirt says. If it’s not his shirt then we hope that it’s been returned to the “rightful Les” but please share this post to make sure). Les likes his cake and has at least 2 friends (the third man is Marc Gill). Note the primary school style decoration and balloons. The sign below the golden ball on the right says “Looking Forward to our future” so it’s unclear whether they actually intend to collect the Arrears or just their salaries. The time on the wall behind Les also suggests that at least 3 minutes of hard work “may” have occurred between these pictures and the initial ones. Let us know if you spot anyone doing anything that resembles work.
So, moving to the other end of the Country and to the Hastings office of the DWP….
In the picture on the left, Marc is giving a motivational speech about what a “brilliant” job everyone’s doing. They’ve got effective leaders (we’re not so sure about that), skilled people, and are improving outcomes (we’re not sure about those 2 things either) and it’s a “brilliant place to work” (if you like making childish decorations and playing with glue).
We at the Voice of the Child are absolutely horrified that, in place of establishing that the arrears are legitimately owed and, if so, collected properly they are wasting time and taxpayers money in the middle of the working day. This is symptomatic of a government department led and staffed by lazy, ineffective individuals. We hope that you would agree with us that giving these people more taxpayer money and additional powers is the last thing that they need.
Satisfaction is already at a low as evidenced by the Net Promoter Score from our recent survey. They really should try and get their jobs right before holding parties to congratulate each other about how well their doing.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and sign up for more information from the Voice of the Child (and of course tell the CMS and your MP what an amazing job they’re doing).
For Receiving Parents: What to do about arrears you are owed by the Child Maintenance Service
For Paying Parents: Arrears Negotiation with the Child Maintenance Service
And don’t forget to wear your Positive Pants!
Update – 26th September 2017
Marc Gill has now made his twitter account private so only his 17 followers can see his tweets.
If Marc would like to write in to the Voice of the Child to state his case then we would be happy to publish his response.
In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.
We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.