A radical reform of child maintenance which places family responsibility and the welfare of children at its heart is published for consultation by Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller today.
The plans, which focus on strengthening families, will encourage responsibility and support separating parents to reach their own agreement on maintenance and other issues important to the long term welfare of their children.
The current statutory system costs around £460m a year to run and can drive a wedge between parents and their children - encouraging conflict, and the Government believes that reaching a settlement independently is far more likely to produce better outcomes for the child.
Under the new system, parents will be able to get initial help and information on the range of options available to them free of charge. They can then decide whether to make their own arrangements, using the help they have received or to use the statutory service for which there will be a charge. In cases where people have suffered domestic violence, their case will be fast tracked directly onto the statutory service - and no payment will be required to enter the system.
Costs could include an upfront application charge of around £100. However, parents on benefits will pay a fee of £50, of which £20 will be paid upfront and the remainder in instalments. The charge will encourage more parents to reach agreement together without automatically falling back on the state to resolve the issues.
Maria Miller said:
The Government is clear about the importance of families and how strong stable family relationships produce the best results for children.
Too often in the past the Child Support Agency has been used as a threat that can make the difficult time of separation worse instead of encouraging people to work together and take responsibility for their child.
When couples split up they generally know what is best for them and their children without the state interfering. Thousands of parents are already working together to make their own maintenance arrangements without the help of the Agency and tell us these arrangements are working well.
We want more people to come to their own maintenance arrangements which are in the best interest of the child and offer value to the taxpayer.
Under the new scheme, depending on individual circumstances families could be offered help to calculate how much maintenance should be paid. The Government is also consulting on how best to ensure separated and separating families can access the support they need such as counselling, or help with relationship and financial issues.
As previously planned, a new more efficient statutory service will replace the Child Support Agency for those in most need and to tackle the minority of parents who refuse to pay.
Notes to Editors:
The consultation paper: Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance is published today at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/child-maintenance/.
The CSA currently spends over 40 pence for every pound transferred from the non resident parent to the resident parent - this does not represent value for money to the taxpayer.
More than 3.5 million children live in separated families. Just under half of those actually benefit from an effective maintenance arrangement.