The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) – a statutory non-departmental public body – was established in 2008 to take on the work of the Child Support Agency. At the same time, the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 (CMOPA) removed the obligation for new claimants who are on benefits to use the CSA. Unsurprisingly, statistics based on the first quarterly figures since this change was made show that the number of new cases being brought to the CSA has declined.
In October 2008, the obligation for existing CSA clients claiming benefits to continue to use the Agency was removed. All parents can now choose the child maintenance arrangements that best suit their individual circumstances. This could be a private arrangement or the statutory maintenance arrangements. A new Child Maintenance Options Service has been established to provide information and support to help parents reach a decision.
Since April 2010, all child maintenance has been fully disregarded when calculating out-of-work benefits.
In November 2008, the CMEC took over responsibility for the work of the CSA. In 2012, this was closed and the responsibility was transferred to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
During 2009/2010, new enforcement powers were introduced under the CMOPA to ensure that parents meet their child maintenance responsibilities. These include allowing the CMEC to seize the passport and/or driving licence of parents who fail to pay, without the need to involve the courts as is currently the case. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell says that the Government is keen to support parents in these tough times, but for those who choose not to support their own children, “we will not stand by and do nothing. If a parent refuses to pay up then we will stop them travelling abroad or even using their car.” The Commission can also seize money from bank accounts, where a parent has failed in their financial obligations toward their child, without having to go through the courts. The CMEC will also be able to apply for a curfew or to recover money from a dead person’s estate.
In late 2012, a new child maintenance scheme was introduced, claimed to be fairer and faster than the current system. It includes annual reviews of maintenance assessment, an increase in the ‘flat rate’ child maintenance deduction from state benefits and the removal of the necessity for parents who share child care equally to pay maintenance through the statutory scheme. Couples wishing to make their own agreement can use the 'family-based arrangement form' available from the Child Maintenance Options website.
The new system bases the maintenance payable on a flat rate per child with the rate varying depending on:
- the gross income of the payee;
- the number of nights the child spends with each parent on average; and
- other factors related to the family circumstances.