The New Child Maintenance Service: How Will It Affect Domestic Abuse Victims?

The Coalition recently revealed controversial plans to replace the Child Support Agency (CSA) with the Child Maintenance Service. Whilst the government predicts that the move will be cost effective, many have questioned how necessary the change is and whether or not it will have a negative impact on domestic abuse victims.

Under the current system, the CSA deducts child maintenance payments directly from the bank accounts of absent parents who neglect to pay voluntarily towards their children’s maintenance. Many separated parents who have full time care of their children therefore depend on the CSA in order extract payments from absent parents whose support is non-existent, insufficient, or erratic.

As a result of the proposed changes, the 1.2 million existing cases of parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA will be closed. Instead of payments being extracted directly from the bank account of parents who avoid day-to-day care for their children, absent parents will be required to pay the resident parent directly, thus reducing the role of the state. The new system works irrespectively of the absent parent’s previous record, with the CMS only intervening to enforce payment if the absent parent fails to pay. However, whereas maintenance collection was free under the CSA scheme, the CMS will charge both parents for the service.

Concerns have been raised that the new system will endanger parents who are escaping domestic abuse victims by requiring them to be in contact with their violent ex-partners. The government has sought to allay these fears by stressing that parents will not be in direct contact and that no personal bank details will need to be provided as the CMS will calculate the money owed and facilitate money transfers using a Direct Pay system. However, many remain concerned that those who take responsibility for the full time care of the children are left overburdened by absent parents who shirk their duties.

The government contends that the new system marks a welcome rollback of the state, encouraging parents to take responsibility for their own maintenance payments. £20 million have been set aside for developing a new advisory website and voluntary bodies to assist parents. However, many consider the plans nonsensical for expecting proven irresponsible parents to take more responsibility.