Child maintenance reforms 2011/13

The Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to the child maintenance system. The Green Paper, Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance, builds on changes that came about under the previous Government who introduced the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008.


At the heart of the proposed reforms is a philosophy that families, themselves, are best placed to determine what arrangements will work best in their circumstances and an intention to encourage the involvement of both parents in their children’s lives after divorce or separation.


As well as promoting child-focussed, family based private agreements, the reforms would provide parents with an integrated model of relationship and family support services that would help them to deal with the practical and emotional issues that can get in the way of successful maintenance arrangements.


Our response to the proposals

Private, family-based arrangements tend to result in higher rates of compliance and satisfaction.


Sir David Henshaw, in his 2008 report, concluded that 'parents who are able to should be encouraged and supported to make their own arrangements. Such arrangements tend to result in higher satisfaction and compliance and allow individual circumstances to be reflected.' (i)


Statistics from the Department for Work and Pension show that almost 90% of 'non-resident parents' complied with their own arrangements, compared with just under two thirds of those who had payments assessed and enforced by the CSA. (ii)


Figures gathered by the Department for Work and Pensions reveal that more than two thirds of parents with a family-based arrangement said they were happy with their situation. And only a third of CSA clients said that they felt the same. (iii)


95% of those with a private arrangement say it is paid and, among those nine in ten say it is paid regularly. (iv)


More than 50% of 'parents with care' who are currently using the CSA believe that with the right support they could have made private arrangements. (v)



Charging is an important mechanism for encouraging parents to move away from an automatic application through the statutory scheme and, instead, to consider making collaborative, family based arrangements.


Many parents are unaware of the potential to make private arrangements or consider the CSA to be the default option. We believe that a small charge for access to the statutory scheme would help parents to consider all of their options and increase the potential for a private, family-based agreement.


We believe it is necessary to ensure that any charging mechanism should not make the statutory scheme so expensive as to effectively remove it as a choice for those parents who may need it. We also believe that the burden of the charges to be borne by both parents, both for the sake of fairness and to emphasise shared responsibility. We further believe that the government should consider introducing a sliding scale of upfront application charges for poorer parents who are not in receipt of qualifying benefits.



We do not agree that the proposal to charge parents to collect child maintenance payments is unfair and will increase child poverty.


Based on current figures, at the lower end of the proposed percentage charges, 16% of 'parents with care' would pay no more than 35p per week (less than the cost of three standard SMS text messages) and 40% would pay no more than 70p per week. And, if the 'parent with care' did not prevent the money being paid through the Maintenance Direct system, where money is transferred without involving the state, even this modest amount would not be payable.



Fewer parents using the statutory scheme will mean a sharper, more effective service for those who really need to use it.


There will always be a need for an effective statutory system to deal with those cases where a private, family-based arrangement is not possible. By supporting more parents to make family-based arrangements, the statutory scheme can become sharper, more effective and more efficient for those families who really do need to use it.



Both parents will be able to access the support they need to deal with a range of issues that arise after separation.


More than half of 'parents with care' using the CSA and nearly three-quarters of 'non-resident parents' using the CSA felt that they would be likely or very likely to make a family-based arrangement were they to receive help from a trained or impartial adviser. (vi)


Parents who are able to make satisfactory child maintenance arrangements can find that this leads to better agreements around a range of issues.


Often, what makes it difficult for parents to make effective maintenance arrangements is not an unwillingness to make financial provision for children. The blocks and barriers to effective maintenance arrangements can be anything from emotional difficulties to the many practical issues that parents have to deal with as they separate. By supporting parents through the difficult transitions that separation brings, more families will be enabled to build co-operative parenting arrangements including effective child maintenance arrangements.


All of the research shows that the children who fare best after family separation are those that are able to maintain positive relationships with both of their parents. One of the prime drivers behind the proposal is an intention to promote the involvement of both parents in their children's lives after separation and enhance the potential for family based arrangements across a range of issues


The support services that will be delivered alongside the changes to child maintenance will focus on joint parenting and empowering parents to move away from costly, adversarial and imposed solutions.



The campaign around the proposed changes to the child maintenance system has been largely based on negative stereotypes around parental behaviour.


The campaign against the proposals has relied on negative stereotypes and, in particular, about the behaviour of 'non resident parents'.


It is not the case that the majority of 'non resident parents' attempt to evade their responsibilities after separation. The Department for Work and Pensions’ own statistics show that in only 17% of cases does a parent refuse to make maintenance payments (vii) and that in almost twice as many cases, 33%, the reason that there is no maintenance arrangement in place is because the 'parent with care' chooses not to have anything to do with the 'non resident parent'. (viii)


It is not the case that 'non resident parents' are any more likely to be the cause of the separation than the 'parent with care'.


It is not true that 'non resident parents' are any more likely to use coercive behaviour than 'parents with care'.




(i) Recovering child support: routes to responsibility. Henshaw, 2006.

(ii) DWP Research report No. 4 - Survey of Child Maintenance Options outcomes 2009/10.

(iii) Ibid.

(iv) Relationship separation and child support study, DWP Research Report No 503. Wikeley, Ireland et al 2008.

(v) DWP Relationship Separation and Child Support Study 2008.

(vi) Ibid.

(vii) Relationship separation and child support study, DWP Research Report No 503. Wikeley, Ireland et al 2008.

(viii) Family Resources Survey. National Centre for Social Research on behalf of the DWP, 2008.





Read our written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee in May 2011 at