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Child Maintenance Reform

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 5 November 2013

On 19 July 2012, the Government published “Supporting separated families; securing children’s futures” (Cm 8399), a public consultation on the draft Child Support Fees Regulations 2013 and the draft Child Support (Ending Liability in Existing Cases and Transition to New Calculation Rules) Regulations 2013. The consultation ran until 26 October 2012 and attracted a total of 90 responses.

On 20 May 2013, I tabled a written ministerial statement—Official Report, column 58WS—which outlined an initial response to this consultation. Later today, the Government will publish their full response. The response will provide further detail, setting out the main points made by respondents to each of the consultation questions, together with proposed next steps.

We have made a number of changes to our proposals in order to address the concerns raised by some respondents around the charging of fees and the closure of existing Child Support Agency cases.

First, we have reduced the proposed parent with care collection fee from 7% to 4%. Secondly, we have extended the list of organisations to which domestic violence can be reported in order to qualify for the application fee waiver. We have updated our definition of domestic violence to keep it in line with the current cross-Government definition, which includes financial abuse.

We have also changed the proposed order in which Child Support Agency cases will close. Nil-assessed cases will be closed first in order to minimise payment disruption. We estimate that around 50,000 cases could move from being nil-assessed to being positively assessed, should a new application be made to the Child Maintenance Service. Cases with an enforced method of payment in place, or where enforcement action is ongoing, will be closed last. These non-resident parents will be subject to a compliance test before they are allowed to choose the “Direct Pay” option.

We believe that these changes address the concerns raised by respondents, while preserving the Government’s intention to rebalance the overall child maintenance landscape. Our intention is to ensure that parents who are able to make their own arrangements are supported to do so, while a more efficient and more sustainable statutory service is still available as a backstop for those who really do need to use it.

We intend to lay amended draft regulations before Parliament later this year.