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Today the government announced it will begin sending out letters to single parents across the country informing them of changes to their child maintenance arrangements. Chief amongst these changes is the move towards encouraging parents who no longer live together to agree their child maintenance agreements themselves, rather than relying on a central agency to arrange this, as has happened in the past.
This huge change of focus in the way child maintenance payments are arranged stems from the decision by the government to abolish the Child Support Agency (CSA) and replace it with a new Child Maintenance Service.
Under the old system, which Ministers argued was inefficient, costly to run and relied on a computer system that was “notoriously riddled with defects”, many single parents relied on the CSA to sort out the payments.
However massive backlogs built up meaning delays in processing payments to the parent taking care of the child. The free service, with annual operating costs of £74 million, was also said to "take responsibility away from parents, encouraging conflict and hostility at huge expense to the taxpayer".
Parents currently using the CSA are set to receive letters from the Department of Work and Pensions this week which will let them know about the introduction later this year of new fees for arranging and processing child maintenance, if they cannot come to a suitable agreement themselves.
The new system, which has a £20 up-front registration fee, will see the parent who is paying the child maintenance charged an additional 20% as a fee, whilst the parent receiving the money will also be charged 4% in order to get access to the payments.
Many charities who work with single parents have expressed their concerns about the introduction of the fees for arranging payments. Speaking to the BBC News website, Fiona Weir, chief executive of the charity Gingerbread said,
"While many parents are able to agree private child maintenance arrangements, for many other parents, this just isn't possible without government help. We're very concerned that closing CSA cases and bringing in charges may deter some parents from making new child maintenance agreements or pressure single parents into unstable arrangements, and children will lose out on vital support."
Speaking about the changes to the system for child maintenance, our Family Law Solicitor Matthew Rogan said:
“In my view, the decision by the government to start charging a substantial premium for arranging child maintenance payments is not only unjust, but is also likely to deter many parents, particularly those on low incomes, from using the service.
These charges will serve to increase the acrimony between separated parents, both of whom will have to pay some amount for use of the service. Most importantly, the children involved could lose out on precious financial support that is meant to provide for their needs throughout childhood.”
Here at Canter Levin & Berg Solicitors, our Family Law team can help when it comes to arranging child maintenance agreements between you and the other parent of your child(ren). We offer a fixed fee service for arranging these agreements and we can be instructed by either parent in this matter.
For more information on child maintenance agreements, you can talk to one of our Family Law Solicitors by calling 0151 239 1000. Alternatively you can request a call back by using one of the enquiry forms here on our website.