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Poorest child maintenance claimants ‘forced into a corner’, warns Barnardo’s

Release Date: 26 Oct 2012

On the final day of the government’s consultation into child maintenance, the UK’s largest children’s charity is warning

On the final day of the government’s consultation into child maintenance, the UK’s largest children’s charity is warning that the poorest parents will be forced to make an impossible choice under the new child maintenance system – to either open up old wounds with an ex-partner to try to renegotiate money or else pay new fees to have their existing child maintenance collected.

Under current government proposals, parents who have previously used the Child Support Agency to come to a financial arrangement with their ex-partners and who cannot come to a new voluntary arrangement will be required to pay an upfront charge of £20 and ongoing fees of 7% when they are transferred to the new statutory service. (2)

Barnardo’s assistant director of policy Neera Sharma says,

“Under these unjust proposals, parents claiming child maintenance are being forced into a corner, where their choice is to open up old wounds with an ex-partner or pay unreasonable amounts of money to access the new service.

“If these plans go ahead we could see thousands of parents on low incomes ditch the child maintenance system altogether and it is children who will suffer from not getting the financial support that they need.

“As a minimum, the government must commit to fairness and help the poorest families by introducing a sliding scale of charging.”

Barnardo’s maintains in its consultation response that the government should consider lower charging fees for the poorest families who will struggle to pay the upfront and ongoing charges. (3)

A small-scale, snapshot survey of services run by Barnardo’s reveals that many separated parents are already reluctant to access the support currently available from the Child Support Agency. These parents would arguably be even less likely to access child maintenance with the introduction of fees. A number of issues were found to prevent separated parents from making private arrangements, including the ex-partner being missing, or abusive. (4)

Ends

Notes to editors

  1. This press release applies to Great Britain – England, Wales and Scotland
  2. The CSA operates as part of the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC) and is being gradually wound down. The government is proposing that the child maintenance system include a compulsory ‘gateway service’, where anyone wanting to use the new child maintenance service will first have to show they have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to investigate a private arrangement with their ex-partner. If this fails, then single parents who want to use new service will, from 2013, have to pay fees for the new maintenance collection service.
  3. A single parent on benefits typically has a weekly maintenance allowance of £10 per week. The upfront fee of £20 and ongoing charges of 7% would result in a £0.70 collection charge per week in the first year of maintenance collection. The single parent would be charged £36.40 per year in fees for the new service, having not incurred any cost under the Child Support Agency. The non-resident parent pays 20% on each payment collected.
  4. Barnardo’s conducted an online survey with a selection of services across England and Wales that support separating families. The survey had a total of 25 questions and we received 15 responses – from a combination of children’s centres and intensive family support services. The questionnaire was completed by Children’s Services Managers (CSMs), who have experience of working with separated families. The survey found that many families were reluctant to use the CSA as they viewed it as compilicated and not user-friendly. Further information from the survey is available on request.
  5. The Welfare Reform Bill (with relevant child maintenance clauses that are GB-wide) is at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/welfarereform.html
  6. Barnardo’s works with more than 200,000 children, young people and their families each year. Barnardo’s now runs more than 800 services across the UK. We believe in the potential of every child and young person, no matter who they are, what they have done or what they have been through. We will support them, stand up for them and bring out the best in each and every child. Every year we help thousands of children turn their lives around. But we cannot do it without you. Visit www.barnardos.org.uk to find out how you can get involved and show you believe in children.

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