The current Minister with direct responsibility for Child Maintenance is Caroline Dinenage MP. However, her predecessor had some interesting things to say about a group of people who work for the Child Maintenance Group in the DWP.
Caroline Nokes MP (The previous Undersecretary of State for Welfare Delivery) described the Financial Investigation Unit of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) as
a dedicated team within the Child Maintenance Group who have specialist skills and knowledge and can request information from Financial Institutions where the Paying Parent holds accounts in order to confirm or challenge the income used for the assessment….These investigators work on identifying financial assets held by the self-employed and company directors that are beyond our reach
We will take a closer look this “unit”, their training and role in this article.
Structure of the FIU
The Financial Investigations Unit is part of the Arrears and Enforcement department within the Child Maintenance Group. This is headed by the Positive Pant wearing Director of Arrears and Enforcement, Marc Gill.
As of October 2017 the team contained a total of 54 people (a reduction from 58 in September 2017).
So, the number of people working in the FIU has actually declined by 7% between September and October 2017.
Also, the box titled “Head of the FIU” is currently taken by a man called Barry Porter. How long he remains in this role is open to debate. More on that in another article.
Training of the FIU
What did Caroline Nokes mean when she said that the FIU have “specialist skills and knowledge”?
The DWP has stated the following with respect to the FIU training in late September 2017
In addition to the basic requirements needed to become Civil Servants, all FIU Investigators have or will have completed and passed the Accredited Counter Fraud Specialist training developed and overseen by Portsmouth University via the Counter Fraud Professional Accreditation Board.
Further information on this training can be found at Portsmouth University’s website at the following link: http://www.port.ac.uk/centre-for-counter-fraud-studies/counter-fraudprofessional-accreditation-board/
To further support their skills all investigators undertake Continuous Professional Development approved by the University which includes the following:
A Performance Development Portfolio
Summary of their job role over the three year period
One Knowledge test per three year cycle
Three Skills Assurance Process (SAP) templates for each SAP area, one for each year of the CPD
A dated Summary of all learning interventions over the three years
DWP also said that because the training was offered by Portsmouth University that they did not have copies of the material used.
Portsmouth University however says:
Some of the Government department members of the board also have approved training, but do not generally offer it on a commercial basis such as DWP/Jobcentre Plus and HM Revenue and Customs. Those wishing to make contact with these bodies should do so via the Secretariat.
We will continue to investigate the training of the FIU as it appears as if someone is not telling the truth….
But, taking the DWP at their word, FIU will all have completed the requisite training before they are let loose to go digging around in peoples lives right?
An article on the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) website published on November 2nd 2017 suggests otherwise.
In October CMG management told PCS of its intentions regarding Financial Investigation Unit staff. Management advised that a number of the staff within CMG Financial Investigation Unit had been offered the opportunity to undertake a professional qualification which was required for the FIU role and that a number of those members had turned down the training.
So, not all members of the FIU have undertaken the training which the DWP deflected in their original response.
Have you got an untrained FIU member looking at your case?
What do the CMS processes say about referral to the FIU?
To improve operational handling when challenges are raised against the inaccuracy of HMRC Income when the paying parent is either self employed, a partner and or director, referrals can be made to FIU by caseworkers across CMG. On receipt of referral the FIU will conduct an investigation to test the information provided.
It is not clear what this “investigation” entails but we will be looking at this.
Examples of when referral may be appropriate are as follows (although this list is not exhaustive):
Paying parent Self Employed/Partner/Director and historic income has been disputed by receiving parent and history of income or information known
Receiving parent believes paying parent diverting income i.e. new partner employed by their company
Paying parent fails to provide earnings information and we are unable to calculate liability or use estimated earnings/DMD
Paying Parent not employed and not claiming benefit
Variation applied for by receiving parent for paying parent additional income (HMRC has no trace and or evidence known unable to reach client outcome)
Paying parent knowingly supplying false information or it is suspected that the paying parent has supplied false information
So, cases can be referred to the FIU for a number of reasons but what do they say about the Paying Parent’s rights? Let’s remember that a referral itself does not mean that anything untoward has been happening.
Whilst paying parents have a right to be believed, this is a qualified right, not an absolute right and receiving parents have similar rights too. In cases of dispute, each party must be heard and if there is credible information that one or the other party may not be telling the truth, consult the FIU.
If there is uncertainty at any time, consult the FIU. Do not ignore the client, as they can escalate their issue.
So, all well and good, “credible information that one of the other party may not be telling the truth” is needed and the FIU
does not accept referrals where the receiving parent challenges the income figure without any supporting information. The receiving parent does not need to provide evidence but does need to provide credible information to support the challenge.
What is classed as “Credible Information”?
We’ve already established that both parties have a right to be believed and that the disputing party needs to provide “Credible Information” but what does this look like? The answer may surprise you.
Credible information includes, but is not limited to:
I know they keep two sets of books
They were fiddling their books when we were together
Significant information shows their lifestyle doesn’t match the income declared
The first 2 bullet points are hearsay and the third provides no definition of what is considered “significant”. This is starting to look like it’s not a particularly fair process.
So what do they tell the Paying Parent about the FIU referral (remember both have a right to be believed)?
Do not inform the paying parent when a referral is made to FIU and ensure all notes are recorded on relevant contact notes on CMS2012. The case will proceed as BAU until a response is received from FIU.
Do not tell the paying parent that an investigation is underway.
We have concerns about this as, in our view it clearly shows that the account of receiving parent is preferred to the that of the paying parent. The two accounts are not treated equally.
However, if there are real legitimate concerns that a paying parent is breaking the law (and you can provide conclusive evidence) then perhaps referral to the FIU is warranted.
Financial Investigation Unit Summary: Link to File
Watch out for another article that we will be publishing shortly which raises serious concerns about the Senior Leadership of the Financial Investigation Unit (and the judgement of the Department of Work and Pensions senior leadership).
Why does this matter?
Many Receiving Parents are owed thousands in arrears. Many more have incorrect calculations in place, and a tiny minority may be receiving the incorrect amount of maintenance because the Paying Parent may have hidden or diverted their income.
Likewise many Paying Parents have incorrect calculations, fictitious arrears, and the imposition of DEOs for no valid reason.
The basis for the establishment of the FIU seems to have some merit however what we’re seeing in our research is that it is being operated in a way in which it was never intended to be allowed to operate.
Worse, our research shows that far from improving the outcomes for children and their parents the FIU is actually making things worse.
We stand by our principle that if the DWP and CMS simply did their jobs properly and effectively from the outset there would be very little need, if at all, for the FIU.
More on this to come soon…
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.