‘I’m owed £16,000 in child maintenance – the system has made me ill’

controlling finances
controlling finances

The amount of child support owed to single parents has surged to £570m, as charities call for tougher enforcement action against non-paying partners.

In the three months to June 2023, the amount due rose by £23.7m, the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show. There were also 5,400 uncleared applications between April to June this year.

Gingerbread, a charity that supports families, said many single parents applying for child support have experienced abuse, violence, or coercive control from an ex-partner.

Its chief executive, Victoria Benson, accused the child maintenance service (CMS) of failing single parents. She said the Government needs to toughen up its enforcement action against non-paying former partners or introduce a financial safety net for single parents who are left without support.

In July 2023 the Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023 received royal assent. The act gave the DWP authority to use liability orders to reclaim unpaid child maintenance instead of applying to court which can take up to 20 weeks.

However, single parents said the system is still failing them.

One single mother told The Telegraph she is owed £16,000 in child maintenance from her ex-partner.

The mother of twins said she applied for child maintenance in 2018. She claims the application was returned on the grounds that her partner, an investment banker, did not earn enough to make contributions.

The 33-year-old said she took her non-paying partner to court twice. She claims he was eventually ordered to pay £16,000 in back payments.

But despite the court order, she claims the occasional payment is still missed.

For there to be enforcement action, she was told her husband would have to miss three payments in a row, a condition she claims her former partner is aware of.

She said the stressful process has impacted her mental health. “It’s made me physically ill,” she said.

Ms Benson of Gingerbread said: “Despite a vast array of enforcement powers, the CMS has shown extreme reticence to use them.

It simply cannot be right that a government service established to facilitate the payment of child maintenance is responsible for leaving children of single parents in poverty. Single parent families rely on the CMS and we need to see the service reformed to make it fit for purpose and to better support children.”

The CMS was set up in 2012 to replace the Child Support Agency (CSA).

When the CSA closed over £2.5bn was owed by non-resident parents to their children but much of this was written off.

A report published by the Work and Pensions Committee earlier this year warned that efforts to reduce child poverty were being hindered by the CMS being slow and ineffective on enforcement.

Rt Hon Sir Stephen Timms, Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “While there is some commitment to improving customer service, action to address long-standing and well-known problems with compliance, reduce fraud and error and make fees fairer, falls short of what is needed to make the service an effective vehicle for tackling child poverty.

The Committee will continue to press the Government on the changes needed to ensure children are getting the payments they are entitled to.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are processing applications to the Child Maintenance Service faster than before and a record £1.2 billion was arranged in the twelve months to June 2023.

“The CMS has a wide range of enforcement powers and will not hesitate to use them when parents fail to pay. We are also bringing in new measures to safeguard domestic abuse victims through the payment arrangement process.”

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