One small step for ministers, one giant leap for child maintenance

Year Published: 2012

As the government have recently acknowledged the “long-term failure” of the current child maintenance system, they have also made two important announcements – they have now committed to ensuring that firstly, more parents receive adequate financial support and secondly, that this support is more effectively enforced.

The first announcement is to bring the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) back under ministerial control as of 31 July 2012. The proposed change would put children “at the heart” of the department, creating ministerial accountability and hopefully an improvement to current child maintenance figures. Reports indicate that at present, only half the eligible children living in separate families are receiving adequate financial support.

The second announcement pledges more intensive action to be taken against parents who fail to support their children following separation. Newly released figures indicate that over 5,000 cases of non-payment remain at least £50,000 in arrears. The government recognises a “long-term failure”, which is now being met by “tougher action”.

This action follows a sharp increase in the use of key enforcement powers against parents who refuse to pay. Driving disqualifications for non-payment have risen eightfold since 2008 and Deduction Orders, where money is removed directly from debtor’s accounts, have tripled since 2009.

In addition to these rosy figures, the government has also confirmed its commitment to the introduction of further enforcement powers. With both of these pledges, time (and parliamentary approval) will tell.

These may not be huge leaps for the time being, but one commitment which is set in stone is the £20 million recently designated to be used in helping to develop local support services to assist family-based maintenance arrangements.

Should you require any further information on any element of child maintenance, please contact a member of the Family team on 01625 442100.

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