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Child maintenance: the multi-billion pound write-off of arrears on Child Support Agency cases (GB)

Published Wednesday, March 6, 2019

This House of Commons Library briefing paper provides information on the new Government policy that brings some £3.7 billion of child maintenance arrears within scope of a new large scale write-off programme. A link to the full pdf copy of the note can be found at the foot of this page.

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The arrears concerned are those accumulated under the two Child Support Agency (CSA) statutory schemes (known as the 1993 and 2003 schemes). Both schemes are closed to new applicants, but substantial amounts of uncollected child maintenance have accumulated totalling around £3.7 billion.

Of this, £1.2 billion is owed to the Government and will be written off in full.

The remaining £2.5 billion is owed to people with care (also known as “receiving parents”) – only in those cases that meet the relevant threshold (based on the amount of their arrears and the age of their case) will people with care be able to make representations asking for their arrears to be collected. Those cases that do not meet the threshold will see their arrears automatically written off.

The large scale write-off powers in respect of people with care were placed on the statute book by regulations which came into force in mid-December 2018. As such, people with care who meet the threshold should have received, or will shortly be receiving, a letter asking them to make representations, while those who do not (along with the non-resident parents) will be informed that their arrears have been written off.

In deciding to take this approach, the Government highlighted the costs associated with maintaining the CSA arrears on the IT systems, and the financial burden (of some £1.5 billion) associated with seeking to collect the arrears coupled with the relatively low expected yield to people with care from such efforts (around £0.1 to 0.6 billion).

The large scale write-off policy marks a change in the DWP’s position on child maintenance arrears: prior to 2012, arrears could not even be written off, only suspended. When the power to write-off arrears was introduced in October 2012, this could only occur in certain prescribed circumstances. And as recently as January 2013, the then Government said that it had “no plans to conduct a wholesale write-off of CSA debt on the grounds that it is unlikely to be collected”.

The introduction of this policy followed a consultation that was published in December 2017, and to which the Government responded in July 2018. Regulations introduced the changes in respect of the write-off of arrears owed to people with care, namely the Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018 (SI 2018/1279) which amended the Child Support (Management of Payments and Arrears) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/3151).

This note applies to Great Britain only.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7776

Author: Tim Jarrett

Topic: Child support

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