The new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will open today (29 July 2013) to new applicants with 2 or more children, the government has announced.
The new and improved statutory service, which calculates and arranges financial support for children living in separated families, will gradually replace the Child Support Agency (CSA). The CMS is designed to be a safety net for difficult cases where parents are unable to work things out between themselves.
Once the CMS is fully up and running, all separated families currently in the CSA will be given a fresh start as their cases are gradually closed. They will be offered help and support to come to their own financial arrangements.
Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb said:
The Child Maintenance Service is progressing well and has reached the next stage of its delivery. Caseworkers report that the system is easier to use and, for the first time, HM Revenue & Customs wage data is being used to calculate payments.
We are learning from the past and avoiding the big-bang approach of the CSA. In the last eight months parents with four or more children have been using the system. We are now rolling it out gradually, first to new applicants with 2 or more children and then to all new applicants.
The government is investing up to £20m into support services for separated families, after over half of those surveyed in the CSA said they could come to their own arrangements with the right help and support.
Innovative projects across Britain have been funded, including mediation projects, counselling, online support from charity Relate and work with difficult-to-reach teenage parents.
The existing Child Maintenance Options service has already helped an estimated 149,000 children benefit from an effective family-based arrangement.
The CMS is designed to target the most difficult cases. It will be able to use new enforcement fines to encourage parents to pay what they owe. The new service will also charge a small upfront fee and have ongoing collection charges for both parents to encourage collaboration. Parents can avoid the ongoing collection charges altogether by opting to use a service called Direct Pay.
CSA will gradually close from next year over 3 years, as parents are given the chance to work things out between themselves.
Under the government’s proposals, the CMS will begin to charge a £20 application fee, once the service is fully up and running. There will also be a 20% collection charge for non resident parents on top of their calculation and a 4% charge on payments for parents with care of the child. These ongoing charges can be avoided if parents opt for Direct Pay, where parents pay each-other directly at arms-length from the CMS. If payments stop, the CMS will step in and enforce payments.
At 31 July 2012, an estimated 149,000 children had benefited from an effective family-based arrangement put into place following contact with the Child Maintenance Options service.