New research finds parents and children in Scotland being failed by Child Maintenance Service
A root and branch review of the Child Maintenance Service is needed to uphold children’s rights, according to charity One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS).
- Satwat Rehman, OPFS Chief Executive
Read full report ‘Child Maintenance Service: Does it deliver value for money for children?’ from One Parent Families Scotland.
Read report published in March 2022 by the National Audit Office.
Read press release from the UK Government from March 2022 about changes to the CMS.
Children have a legal right to receive financial support from both of their parents, but the charity says the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is failing to ensure that right is upheld and that children are being left to languish in poverty as a result.
A research report published by OPFS today (26 April), which asked single parents claiming child maintenance about their experience of the system, found that 8 in 10 were dissatisfied or highly dissatisfied with the speed and quality of the service.
83% said they felt the level of child maintenance was inadequate to meet their children’s needs.
OPFS is calling for:
- the abolition of charges for receiving parents,
- an improved service for domestic abuse survivors,
- stronger enforcement to ensure payments are made,
- and better case management for parents.
- Single Parent, Research paricipant
Chief executive of One Parent Families Scotland, Satwat Rehman said:
“Our consultation findings underline what we are continually told by single parents through our local services and national helpline – parents are facing huge delays in hearing back, poor customer service, and ultimately a failure to collect the payments.
“At a time when the cost of living is rising to impossible levels, with many families forced to choose between food and fuel, addressing these issues is more important than ever. No child should have to go without because one parent is choosing not to provide them with financial support when they are able to.”
One single mum who took part in the research said: “[I was] having to choose which of my children could return to school as couldn’t afford the uniform. I am now down to four meals a week for myself so I can feed my children.
“I am in huge debt for utilities, council tax bailiffs are a constant worry as I’ve no means of paying them.”
The UK Government committed last month to make improvements to the CMS after an official report from the National Audit Office highlighted major flaws in the system.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), new powers will expand the list of companies and organisations required to provide information to the CMS which will help the service trace the paying parent, calculate maintenance, and enforce arrears more effectively.
However, OPFS insist that a “a full root and branch review” of the CMS is required, not only to enforce payments but to ensure that the process itself doesn’t put vulnerable families through additional stress.
Just 1 in 5 separated parents make use of the CMS, and DWP statistics from September 2021 showed that 60% of new applicants were recognised as being survivors of domestic abuse.
Rehman added: “Parents – mostly mothers – who make claims through the Child Maintenance Service do so because making informal arrangements with their ex-partner would not be possible. Often, this is because coercive control has been involved.
“Despite this, the CMS displays a systemic failure to appreciate these circumstances, for example by arranging face-to-face meetings with ex-partners.
“Parents report that they’re passed to new caseworkers each time they get in touch, meaning they have to explain their situation all over again and are often met with a lack of empathy.”
One single mum who took part in the research said: “I tried to claim [Child Maintenance] and received a few erratic payments. It had to be collected through earnings arrestment. Every time the dad moved job, payments stopped and wouldn’t re-start for months.
“CMS said they couldn’t find him and they were not allowed to search for him. He accrued lots of arrears. When the system changed over I was told I should write him a letter that would be passed onto him. I didn’t/couldn’t… so I didn’t make a new claim.”
Another parent added: “I’ve had to wait more than a year for a response on more than one occasion (despite chasing) which is completely unacceptable. Upon phoning, any random person becomes your case worker and as my case is complex this is soul destroying.
- Single parent, Research participant
Survivors of domestic abuse have their fees waived, but they need to share the trauma they have faced with a stranger so many don’t come forward. Other parents claiming through Collect and Pay are charged 4% – meaning they must pay the government to ensure their child’s other parent pays what they owe.
One parent commented on this setup: “Although I am on Collect and Pay the paying ‘parent’ is still getting away with non-payment and nothing is being done about payment of the arrears.
“Then they have the audacity to charge me 4% even though none of this is the child’s fault and it’s the child who is being deprived of what she is owed.”
The National Audit Office found that fewer than half of paying parents with Collect and Pay arrangements had paid more than 90% of payments due in September last year.
The new report by OPFS says this needs to change as part of a thorough review to ensure children are not disadvantaged.Download CMS Report