It is important to all users of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to be sure that what they are told is accurate.
The preferred method of contacting people that the CMS uses is to make repeated calls by telephone. In unusual cases the number will be withheld but more typically it will show up when they are calling you as 03452668792. We will explain shortly why telephone communication with the Child Maintenance Service could well not produce the result you are led to believe.
If, however you choose to enter into a discussion with them then you should be aware that they record the calls “for training and quality purposes, or to be used as evidence“. You should also record the call at your end (there are several apps available for this purpose on both Apple and Android platforms). You should inform them that you are doing so. Obtain the full name, job title and office location of the person you are speaking to. It is not uncommon for people working for the Child Maintenance Service to tell you that “they don’t have to give you their name”, but you don’t have any obligation to speak to them if they are not open and transparent with you. If you feel uncomfortable then tell them you do not wish to take the call further and request they write to you.
If you decide to go on then the person will tell you that they are calling from the “Department of Work and Pensions” and ask you to confirm your name to them. They will then take you through a process of “security verification” involving reference numbers, security pin numbers and what they call a “special customer password”.
Once past the previous step they will say “Thank you for Passing Security” and then ask you to confirm your telephone number and address “to make sure their records are up to date”. You are under no obligation to answer these questions. It is never advisable in this day and age to divulge personal information to an unknown party over the telephone.
We will now explain some of the reasons that telephone conversations are not advisable with this department if you wish to have an outcome that the children and you can rely on and that is correct.
The CMS staff use an intranet based system that takes them through a number of prescriptive steps. It contains a process that they “should” follow but we know of many instances where people that have contacted us have been given contradictory information, been lied to, misled, threatened or abused by staff working for the Child Maintenance Service. No one deserves that sort of treatment as a matter of principle.
We will now move on to the legal issues with using telephone contact to provide information or resolve disputes with the CMS. The CMS “Policy, Law and Decision Making Guidance” contains a document called “Evidence and Decision Making” which deals with some of the standards that the CMS is required to adhere to when making decisions on behalf of the Secretary of State with respect to Child Support Maintenance. There is a section in this document that deals with a legal concept called estopppel:
Estopppel (personal bar in Scotland)
The doctrine of estoppel (personal bar in Scotland) has the effect in general law, of preventing a person from alleging or proving in later proceedings matters which have already been decided in earlier proceedings. This applies to decisions given by the decision making authorities, but not to advice given. The doctrine of estoppel does not apply where advice or a promise has been given by a CMG officer, which has led a relevant person to form a view about future child maintenance calculations and caused a particular course to be taken. Caseworkers must determine the calculation solely on the basis of the legislation, even though the decision may be adverse to the relevant person compared with the original advice or information given.
What this paragraph is saying is that where a CMS employee (referred to as a CMG officer) has given you advice or promised you something on the phone that they can then go and break their promise or do something contrary to the advice given. In effect, their promise is not binding.
So, what do you do when you can’t trust (and they are not bound by) what they say on the phone?
Firstly, insist that everything is done in writing. We will be posting up a pro-forma letter to send them (and will link it here) but in summary you should write to formally let them know that you do not wish to be contacted in future by telephone and that all future communication is done by post. You deserve to know where you stand. In the same letter you should let the CMS know that they do not have your consent to hold your telephone number on their systems and that it should be removed forthwith. If you do not ask for this then they will continue to call you. This will give both you and the Child Maintenance Service certainty about exactly what is said, “agreed” and/or “arranged”. Paying parents will know what to pay and receiving parents can budget and plan.
Be aware that the CMS may try to encourage you to use their online email portal. Do not do this as it is linked to the same system that regularly gets the calculation for both paying and receiving parents incorrect. Emails also ‘go missing’ causing stress on both sides and worsening the relationship between you and the other parent ultimately harming the children.
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.