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The statutory Child Maintenance Service is a responsible for calculating and collecting child maintenance payments (‘statutory’ means it is controlled by law). Previously, this was handled by the Child Support Agency. However, from the 25th November 2013, the Child Support Agency is only responsible for existing cases and does not deal with new claims. The Child Maintenance Service handles any new claims.
This service was originally introduced because the government was concerned that single parents were not being supported enough, resulting in child poverty. They felt parents should be financially responsible for their children. To help with this issue, ‘The Child Support Act 1991’ was introduced and, as a result, maintenance payments began. This means that, where possible, parents must now make payments to support their children rather than the government financially supporting the single parent.
The Child Maintenance Service operates throughout the UK as does the Child Support Act 1991. The Act operates slightly differently in Scotland than it does in the rest of the UK.
When organising child maintenance arrangements, parents do not need to involve the Child Maintenance Service if their separation is amicable and an agreement can be made. A child maintenance calculator can be found on the Child Maintenance Service’s website. This estimates the approximate amount of maintenance due if the case was to come before the Child Maintenance Service. This can be a good starting point for reaching an agreement and is a fair way of ensuring that:
Child maintenance is a payment due when a child’s parents are separated. The parent the child lives with (the receiving parent) is entitled to a payment from the parent the child does not live with (the paying parent). This is to help with the everyday expense of caring for the child.
It is not just single parents who are entitled to claim child maintenance. If, for example, a grandparent is caring for a child instead of the child’s parents, they are entitled to child maintenance. It is also available to non-family members, so, if a guardian is the carer, they are entitled to maintenance payments.
Payments are made for children under the age of 16. If the child is in full-time education, this goes up to age 20. However, the definition of full-time education is ‘not higher than A level or equivalent’ (in Scotland, this is Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers). For example, someone who is 19 and still at school would be entitled to payments, but, if the same person was at university, they would not be.
The parent who does not live with the child needs to pay child maintenance. If the child lives with both parents this will be taken into account when payment is awarded to the parent who has the child the most.
If you think the child is not yours, and you should not pay maintenance, you can dispute the parentage of the child.
However, the Child Maintenance Service will presume a man to be the father if:
If you have legally adopted a child or have a court order stating you are the parent (in the case of surrogacy), it will also be presumed you are the parent. If any of these apply to you, you will need to pay child maintenance until you can prove otherwise.
If you claim you are not the parent, you will be asked to give evidence to prove this. The other parent will also need to prove the child’s parentage. If neither of these things is possible, the Child Maintenance Service can ask for a DNA test or a decision to be made by the courts.
If a presumed parent proves he or she is not the parent, the Child Maintenance Service can refund payments made after he or she denied being the parent, and refund the cost of the DNA test if one was needed. The parent who received the maintenance payments may be asked to make repayments to the Child Maintenance Service.
The Child Maintenance Service is the body responsible for calculating and enforcing child maintenance payments. It ensures that the Child Support Act 1991 supports single parents and helps reduce child poverty.
The Child Maintenance Service does a number of things to ensure single parents, and other carers, are reasonably supported by the parent who does not live with the child. The services provided vary from case to case and depend upon the circumstances of those involved.
The Service can work out how much maintenance is due and arrange for the non-resident parent to pay it. They can transfer payment to the receiving parent if necessary. If payments are not made, steps can be taken to enforce the payment.
When parentage is disputed, the Child Maintenance Service can get involved to help find out who the child’s parents are. If the resident parent does not know where the non-resident parent is, the Child Maintenance Service can help locate them. The Service will review cases if any of the individual’s circumstances change.
Parents can apply to have their case considered whether they live with the child or not. Anyone caring for a child who does not live with their parents can apply to the service.
Because the particular legislation involved is broadly similar throughout the UK, the Service operates throughout the UK. However, one difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK is the right of children to apply to the Service. Unlike in England & Wales, in Scotland qualifying children over the age of 12 who are normally resident in Scotland may apply to the Child Maintenance Service for a maintenance calculation, which can then lead to a maintenance payment being enforced and collected.
Maintenance calculations are based on income. There are different rates depending upon the income of the paying parent. When income is calculated, expenses such as pension payments and support paid to other children are taken into account to obtain the gross income of the paying parent. It is this gross income that is used to calculate maintenance payments.
After income is calculated, other children will be taken into account. For example, if the paying parent is living with a new partner and their partner’s children this will be considered. The Child Maintenance Service will also consider the amount of time the child spends living with the paying parent.
If you would like to calculate the amount of child maintenance you are probably entitled to, there is an online calculator provided by the government here. The calculator is only able to provide an estimate.
If your case is from before 25th November 2013, it will be dealt with by the Child Support Agency. The calculation used by this agency is slightly different. It is still based on income and also takes into account the number of children the paying parent is responsible for and the amount of time the children live with him or her.
By law, you need to tell the Child Maintenance Service (or Child Support Agency if your case is from before 25th November 2013) about certain changes in your circumstances. Since this is a legal requirement, you should inform the Child Maintenance Service or the Child Support Agency of the change if you are not sure whether it is relevant. If you fail to supply the relevant body with the information it needs or if you supply false information, you can be taken to court, which could result in a £1000 fine.
Paying parents must tell the Child Maintenance Service if:
Also, if they make payments directly from their earnings and they leave their job they must inform the Service of their new employer, payroll number and expected earnings.
Receiving parents must inform the Service if:
There is also the extra obligation that, if they know that the paying parent is moving house or no longer receives benefits, they should inform the Child Maintenance Service.
When a maintenance payment is not made, the Child Maintenance Service will contact the paying parent to understand why this has happened. It will be arranged for the payment to be made, a warning will be given and the consequences of missing another payment explained. The parent is given a week to respond and, if they do not, the Service can take steps to recover the payment.
One option is for the Child Maintenance Service to order the paying parent’s employer to take the payment from his or her wages and pass it on to the Child Maintenance Service. The payment can also be taken from benefit or pension payments.
Another option is to take the payment from a bank or building society account. The Child Maintenance Service does not need permission to take this course of action and has the power to instruct the bank to take a payment regularly or as a one off.
Finally, the Child Maintenance Service can take the paying parent to court. If this happens, the paying parent may need to cover the legal costs. The court can take several courses of action to recover the money due, including:
You can contact either the Child Maintenance Service or the Child Support Agency with your complaint. The telephone number can be found on the letters you have received from the appropriate organisation. You should receive a reply within fifteen days.
If you are still unhappy, you can contact the Independent Case Examiner. This can be done in writing or by telephone. Information on the process can be found on their website.
If you are still not satisfied, you can contact your MP who can ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look into your complaint.
If a mistake is made you may be entitled to ‘special payments’ (compensation). To find out whether this is the case, you should contact the Child Maintenance Service.
If the mistake leads to a delay in the receiving parent getting child maintenance payments the Child Maintenance Service may, in certain circumstances, make an advance payment. This only happens in rare circumstances. You should contact the Child Maintenance Service if you believe this to be the case.
If you disagree with a decision made by the Child Maintenance Service or the Child Support Agency you can ask them to reconsider their decision. It is possible to appeal the decision. This is done through the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal. If you need help with your appeal you should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau. Appeals should be made within one month of receiving the decision from the Child Maintenance Service or the Child Support Agency. Late appeals will only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
Nothing in this guide is intended to constitute legal advice and you are strongly advised to seek independent advice on matters that affect you.