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

The Coalition Government 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.

The CSA, of course, was introduced, supposedly to simplify the whole process of child maintenance – to turn maintenance into a simple formula, without the need for the involvement of family lawyers and the family courts. It has of course been a very expensive failure from day one – reflected in the colossal cost of replacing it with an entirely new service.

As a result of the proposed changes, the 1.2 million existing cases of parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA will be closed. Many parents who take full time care of their children struggle due to their ex partner’s refusal to pay child maintenance willingly. As a result, payments can be late, irregular or non-existent but the CSA currently secures payment by directly withdrawing funds from the absent parents bank account.

Under the new plans, 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.

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, concerns have been raised that the new system will endanger parents who are escaping domestic violence 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. Nevertheless, 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.