Unpaid child maintenance mounting with ‘no long-term strategy’ but write-offs

22 June 2022

10 years since it replaced the previous agency, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) say the Child Maintenance Service is “achieving no more” than its discredited predecessor.

The Child Support Agency was dissolved and the billions of pounds in unpaid child maintenance debt were wiped out.

Around half of children in separated families – 1.8 million children – continue to receive no support from their non-resident parent, and “enforcement can be too slow to be effective”.

Unpaid maintenance owed to parents on Collect & Pay has increased by more than £1 million a week to a total of £440 million in October 2021, and the NAO recently concluded that unless the department for work and pensions (DWP) writes more off, outstanding arrears will grow to £1 billion by March 2031 and “indefinitely thereafter”.

“The scale of unfulfilled obligations once again looms as a major issue” that DWP “has no long-term strategy for tackling”, today’s report complains.

DWP’s reforms were based on the assumption that most parents can come to agreement on child maintenance between themselves, but the PAC says the department “has done little to ensure this is the case, or to address concerns that its approach risks causing a further deterioration in the parents’ relationship or exacerbating abuse and coercive control”.

DWP has shifted responsibility for detecting child maintenance fraud onto its customers, and will only investigate a parent understating their income if it is reported by a parent receiving child maintenance – something they “can be understandably reluctant to do”.

PAC say that “serious constraints on parents’ ability to pay will inevitably hamper” any new DWP effort to collect maintenance or enforce the collection of arrears – with some Paying Parents facing a “poverty trap where there is little incentive for them to work more”.

Fewer customers are satisfied with the CMS and “DWP upholds more complaints for every 1,000 customers on child maintenance than any other area of its business”.