Column: Child Maintenance

The UK Government has the opportunity to change one of their cruellest and most callous money-making schemes – the charge on survivors of domestic abuse who claim child maintenance.

While I believe the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) needs widespread reform to be fit for purpose, the processing charge for using the “collect and pay” service is one of the most heartless policies, and one that takes money from the pockets of people who have escaped domestic abuse.

Yesterday I brought this up with the Prime Minister, and next week I will speak to Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women, to outline how this policy change could be put into effect, and how it will benefit the many parents having to pay this tax who have approached me.

I have also written to the new Equalities Minister, Amber Rudd, to ask for her intervention on this tax.

The Government has built the CMS on the ethos of as little intervention as possible, and aims to run as many claims as it can on the “direct pay” scheme or through a “family based” arrangement.

Neither of these options are chargeable, but neither are they enforceable or secure. They require parents to be in contact, and to pass on bank details.

For people who have escaped domestic abuse, this is not an option.

So while one of the biggest barriers to personal independence is financial control, this is being compromised by having to pay an administration fee to the Government.

The “collect and pay” charge, topped up by application fees and enforcement charges for non-payment, earned the UK Government more than £11 million between August 2014 and March 2016.

The charge is set at 4 per cent, so if a parent is to receive £100 a week from their ex-partner, £4 is deducted, meaning they will receive £96 a week. This works out as an annual charge of £208.

This means that every year, parents who receive the payments miss out on considerable amounts of money that is meant to go to their children.

The £20 application fee is waived for people who have experienced domestic abuse – I see no reason why that waiver should not be extended to the 4 per cent charge on their monthly payment.

The fact is that many former couples are not in contact for good reasons.

If a former partner is violent or making threats, it only makes sense not to give them details like a home address, or to have to phone them up to chase a missed payment.

Yet that is where the UK Government is leaving people, and pushing many back into cycles of abuse.

For all the child maintenance claims across the UK, and all the split relationships that entails, we would be kidding ourselves to imagine every one of them is amicable.