Report shows ongoing Child Maintenance problems

Children In Poverty: Child Maintenance Service is a new report from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. It includes much criticism from both receiving and paying parents and recommends changes that could address some of these issues.

From the perspective of paying parents, concern was expressed both about the affordability of maintenance payments and distortion of work incentives caused by the current maintenance levels. This poses a risk to work incentive objectives of Universal Credit.

The unaffordability of maintenance for some parents is causing severe hardship and distress. It also forms a barrier to compliance. Updating maintenance levels and thresholds should therefore be seen as a priority.

The committee recommends that the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) should ensure its guidance is clear on situations of 50/50 day-to-day care and that, where court orders are made under the expectation of care being equally split, no maintenance is deemed to be due. The use of child benefit to determine that maintenance is indeed due appears to be a blunt tool and they recommend that the CMS should not use child benefit as an effective proxy to determine whether child maintenance is due.

Shared Parenting Scotland raised this issue recently with the Child Support Minister Viscount Younger of Leckie. In his response he didn’t agree to take up that issue, but in the oral evidence session with the committee there was an indication that the Government is thinking again about equal shared care decisions.

The committee heard that the current child maintenance system incentivises parental conflict under a “winner takes all system” and there appears to be strong arguments in favour of reform away from such a system. They suggest that once the urgent work on maintenance affordability is finished, the Work and Pensions Department should consider a model which incorporates both parents’ income.

They also suggest that the key criteria the Government use to evaluate any such proposal should include the potential effect on compliance, the scope for any proposals to tackle incentives to parental conflict and potential impact on child poverty. In its response to this Report, the Government should set out when such work will begin.