The Child Support Agency (CSA) is due to be changed again in October 2012 so as to significantly reduce its case load and cost. The current system simply can not fulfil its original function, which was to have responsibility for dealing with all child maintenance cases in place of the courts.
As yet there has not been a great deal of publicity about the changes. However, this is what we do know.
The new system will be very different from when it was first introduced in 1993. In those days the intention was to force as many people as possible into the system, including benefit claimants whether they wanted to or not! The proposed changes will have the opposite effect.
It will not be possible to simply apply for child support, as it is at the moment, without first showing that you have tried to reach agreement with your former partner. Those that do apply will be charged fees for using it!
The emphasis will be on encouraging parents to reach agreement between themselves. Information and help can be given by the Child Maintenance Options Service at http://www.cmoptions.org/.
The rationale is that parents should have more control over how they deal with child support maintenance. A mother may, for instance, prefer her former partner to pay for school clothes and shoes, as opposed to a regular cash sum. This may suit the father and work better all round.
The other major change is that child support will be calculated by reference to the parent's gross, as opposed to net, income (but still using a set percentage as determined by the number of children).
The income information will now be provided by HMRC as opposed to the parent. This may speed things up and make it harder for some parents to manipulate their income to reduce the amount they pay.
This is mostly good news, and makes use of today’s technology, but there may be problems if HMRC do not have accurate information and are not able or willing to investigate. Also the details provided by HMRC will inevitably relate to the previous year’s income, with complicated rules as to when current income may be used.
If you are involved with the Child Support Agency it is always important to check and challenge Agency decisions. But there are strict deadlines for appealing so, whilst it is tempting to put off reading Agency letters to another day, this might mean you miss an important deadline! We can advise on these issues if you need help.
We value your comments about your experience of the Child Support Agency.