I asked my colleague Ben Carter to come up with the last word on today's CSA reforms. Here's what he said, including some bits (particularly para 4) that the press didn't tell you
high number of parents, who have a case with the Child Support Agency, will
receive letters this week advising them of the changes to the way in which the
child support system will work.
part of the Government’s current reform of the system all existing cases, which
have been dealt with by the Agency, will automatically be closed at some point
over the next couple of years. This
means that parents with existing cases will then have to make a choice as to
whether they wish to make a fresh application for child support or whether they
wish to enter into a private agreement for payment of child support outside,
and independent of, the child support system.
one of them decides that they wish the Agency, or its intended replacement
body, the Child Maintenance Service, to continue to deal with their case then
they will discover that they will now have to pay fees for the privilege of
the paying parent, usually the father, this will be 20% of the child support
liability with the receiving parent, usually the mother, paying 4% of the
liability and, therefore, only receiving 96% of the liability once the fee has
been deducted. These charges are clearly
quite significant and many parents will feel it is grossly unfair to be forced
to pay a charge for a service that has previously been free to use and,
furthermore, has had a somewhat chequered past. However, if the paying parent opts to make payments direct to the receiving parent, rather than through the CSA, those charges may be avoided.
a parent can apply to the new scheme they will have to pass through a “gateway”
which involves a telephone conversation with the Child Maintenance Option
Service. This organisation will explore
with the parent whether a private agreement, instead of an application to the
Child Support Agency, would be suitable in their case.
parents who do decide to enter into a private agreement may quickly discover
that these agreements, whilst no doubt successful for some, may well not be
appropriate for them bearing in mind that they are unmonitored and currently unenforceable.
is, furthermore, up to the parents to decide how much will be paid pursuant to
such an agreement, which may result in payments being made which bear no
relation to the cost of maintaining a child.
there may be some merit to the Government’s claim that it is better for parents
to be able to reach agreement over these issues, it is quite clear that such
agreements will be unsuitable in a significant number of cases. The concern is
that these cases will now be deterred from applying for child support and will
end up with private agreements, which are not complied with, or make provision
for the payment of inadequate sums.
Benjamin Carter is a solicitor with the leading family law team at Cripps.
He has a particular interest in the law and procedure of child support
maintenance. He regularly writes for legal profession publications and gives
seminars to lawyers. You can contact him on Benjamin.firstname.lastname@example.org.