The Child Support Agency (CSA) is to become the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

In 3 month’s time, the Child Support Agency (CSA) will be replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). Many changes are proposed but the emphasis will be on encouraging parents to negotiate their own arrangements. The manner in which this is proposed is by offering mediation help, other kinds of assistance and financial incentives, as well as the waiver of new charges for using such a service.

Men are now twice as likely as women to seek advice on dealing with the agency as it pursues many of them for old debts outstanding to their ex-partners and children. At present the CSA can only negotiate the timing of the repayment of these debts. The CMS say that they ‘don’t seek to make people bankrupt or chase them for money they do not have’. Under the new system, old debts can be written off in situations where the non-resident parent dies or the parent with care agrees to it.

It is anticipated that there will be administrative problems during the transition period as most of the 145,000 parents with care, have had deduction orders from their ex-partners’ salaries or bank accounts set up with the help of the CSA and these will need to be re-negotiated with their exes under the transition to the CMS.

The new system is set to be phased in from October 2012, but it is likely that it will take several years to transfer all the current caseload. It has been said that all parents who used the CSA would have their cases closed from 2014. All parents (the mother and father) will be encouraged to make private financial arrangements. They will initially speak with an adviser from the new scheme and then they maybe offered mediation or other assistance.

When parents cannot agree a private financial arrangement, then the parent with care can ask for the CMS to intervene. The new system will then charge the parties. This new system is attracting a lot of controversy. It has been said that the charge could include a one off payment of £20 and 7% of any maintenance paid.

Women, who account for 97% of parents with care, find particular problems in cases where their ex is self-employed and decides to underestimate his income. About 10% of CSA cases relate to self-employed non-resident parents. They appear to be understating their income in order to reduce their maintenance liability. It is not sure how the new CMS will deal with these cases, but the Government say that it has pledged to deliver ‘a much more efficient and effective service’ for ‘those who continue to need help from the state scheme’.

Satvinder Sokhal