If you are thinking of claiming a special expenses variation for your travel costs to be deducted from your child maintenance payments then you should be aware of the mechanism that the Child Maintenance Service uses for these “Contact Expenses“:
- Your expenses must be greater than £10 per week in order to qualify for a variation (if it meets this threshold then the entire expense will be considered).
- If you drive, the amount the CMS should calculate as your “cost” will be based on the lower of whatever you report OR (if contested by the other party) they will use 2013 HMRC advisory fuel rates for company cars. The latest HMRC advisory fuel rates can be found here.
- Be careful how your case worker calculates the mileage – some have tried to insist that mileage can only be calculated “as the crow flies” but this is incorrect. Use Google maps to show you the shortest distance for your journey and submit that mileage and proof.
- Some people have also been told by the CMS that they must also produce petrol receipts from a petrol station at their destination. This is not supported by the legislation and we can find no evidence within their policies for this requirement.
- CMS will then take the total cost of the expense off your gross salary and then run the maintenance calculation again.
The effect of their mechanism is perhaps best illustrated with a simple example:
- Non resident parent has gross income of £900 per week and pays for 1 child.
- Total number of nights per year the child stays with the Non Resident Parent (NRP) = 58
- Maintenance per week would be £90 (390 per month) if no variation was applied for.
- Assume that the Resident Parent with the child relocated 200 miles away and the NRP spends 1 weekend per month with the child (a 400 mile round trip).
- CMS would take the total monthly mileage (400) and multiply it by their company car rate (11p per mile for example). This would produce a “cost” of £44 per 400 mile round trip.
- £44 would then be deducted from the monthly gross income (and the maintenance figure would fall to £89 per week).
- Put another way, the total cost of the contact expense is £528 per year (£10.15 per week). The total maintenance “discount” is £52 per year (9% of the cost incurred, leaving the NRP to pay the other 91% of the cost).
Looking at the effective rate per mile the figures become clearer still. 400 miles per month equates to 4,800 miles per year. The CMS “discount” equates to £0.01 per mile.
By way of contrast, both the DWP staff and MP’s themselves can claim 45p per mile when using their vehicles (so they would claim £2,160 for the same mileage). The AA cost of mileage rates for petrol cars can be found here with diesel rates here.
DWP was not able to produce any documentary evidence around the formulation of this policy, who was involved in the discussions and who, ultimately, is responsible for approving the decision.
The policy decision to use HMRC Advisory Fuel Rates is to enable clear comparison to be made based on engine size of the car and fuel. It’s important to note that this is used for reference when determining whether or not the cost the Paying Parent is claiming is reasonable.
Variations are the “new name” for what was previously called “Departures” (from the basic formula). The contact cost element was introduced into the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill (which became the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000). During the debates being held by MP’s during the Bills passage, Angela Eagle MP, who was the then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Social Security (the precursor to the DWP) said the following about the rationale for introducing the variations for contact costs (you can read the full debate here):
we intend to extend the nature of contact-related expenses that we are prepared to recognise, albeit not as widely as amendments Nos. 82 and 226 propose. The allowance for contact costs in the departure scheme is restricted to travel-related costs only: that is, fares, petrol costs or tolls.
No allowance is made for the cost of overnight accommodation. We intend to prescribe that non-resident parents with particularly difficult or arduous journeys will be able to claim the costs of essential overnight stays in appropriate cases. That is evidence of our commitment to shared parenting.
– Angela Eagle MP
The Government introduced the variations to show their “commitment to shared parenting”.
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.