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Child maintenance: enforcing payment of arrears (GB)

Published Tuesday, October 1, 2019

This House of Commons Library briefing paper looks at what steps can be taken by the Child Support Agency (CSA) and the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) when a non-resident parent (also referred to as a “paying parent”) fails to pay child maintenance on time and in full, and that as a consequence arrears build up. A link to the full report in pdf format can be found at the foot of this page.

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When arrears accumulate, a non-resident parent can seek to negotiate a repayment schedule with the CMS, so avoiding the need for the CMS to use its powers to collect those arrears. Alternatively, a proposal for part payment of arrears as full and final settlement can be considered, and in some cases arrears can be written off. If a non-resident parent (or their partner) are in receipt of certain welfare benefits and as a result the non-resident parent qualifies for the flat rate of child maintenance, the CMS can collect arrears from those benefits before they are paid to the non-resident parent (where they have no ongoing maintenance liability)

The enforcement measures themselves can be used for any CSA or CMS case, but this note focuses on their application to CMS cases i.e. the current (“2012”) statutory child maintenance scheme.

There is a spectrum of collection actions and enforcement powers available to collect arrears, although they can only be used if a case is on the “Collect and Pay” scheme (although arrears accrued under “Direct Pay” scheme can be collected if a case is subsequently transferred to Collect and Pay).

The CMS states that it commences enforcement measures after one missed payment, although the single parent charity Gingerbread has contended that there can be “a lot of prevarication and foot dragging” before the CMS uses its powers to collect arrears. Where arrears accumulated while the CSA was responsible for a case, the National Audit Office found that the use of some collection actions and enforcement powers in 2015-16 fell by 69% or more compared to 2012-13.

It should be noted that since December 2018, the Government has had the power to write-off arrears that accumulated when a case was administered by the CSA under the legacy 1993 and 2003 child maintenance schemes if no payment towards those arrears has been made for three months, and subject to certain other conditions. For more information on this, see the Library briefing paper Child maintenance: the multi-billion pound write-off of arrears on Child Support Agency cases.

This note applies to Great Britain only.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7774

Author: Tim Jarrett

Topics: Child support, Children and families, Divorce

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